Coupeville schools struggle with cuts

Coupeville School District Superintendent Bill Myhr has had a good first year on the job, but he concedes the honeymoon may be over.

Myhr faced a tough crowd at two community forums last week as more than 175 parents, students and community members attended the presentations to hear the new superintendent’s plan to finance another school year in tough times. He stressed it was a first draft, and welcomed community input.

While the state Legislature is hung up on budget negotiations in special session, schools across the state are trying to create budgets without knowing how much state funding they will receive. Myhr decided to go with a worst case scenario, basing the Coupeville budget on Gov. Gary Locke’s budget, which has the severest cuts for education funding.

In planning for a budget similar to this year’s, at $7.2 million, Myhr said the district needs an additional $308,236 to $387,697 to meet anticipated expenses.

Myhr said the district has long been borrowing from “things” to pay for “people.” Instead of facing the hard choice of laying off teachers or other staff, the district in the past has chosen to forego things such as bus replacement, maintenance and furniture replacement. Myhr submitted a list of 14 expense categories that he says can’t be ignored any longer.

“We have to start putting money into maintenance,” he said.

Past budgets have also taken money from the cash reserve fund, to the point where Coupeville School District now has the lowest unencumbered cash balance of any district in the 35-member Educational Service District, at $147,466. It is at 2.1 percent, whereas it should be around 4 percent, Myhr said. His proposed budget calls for increasing the cash balance by one-half of a percent by adding $37,500.

Priorities for balancing the budget are to maintain class size and certificated staff, Myhr said, but eliminating some staff positions may be unavoidable.

He acknowledges making the shift to cutting staff is not a pleasant thought.

“It’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about,” he said.

Cocurricular sparks debate

What parents, students and community members did want to talk about at the forums was proposed changes in the cocurricular department. Some thought the district was cutting too much, and pleaded to not eliminate any programs, while others said cocurricular seemed to be exempt from the cuts proposed in other areas. Cocurricular covers all sports, clubs and activities outside of regular classes.

Myhr suggested only one real “cut” in cocurricular programs, that of eliminating the pep band advisor position for a savings of $1,440. Other measures would produce revenue, thus reducing the budget deficit. Myhr proposed implementing a gate fee for sporting events as well as drama productions, and increasing the cost of ASB cards. He noted Coupeville is the only school in the district that does not charge for these events.

The combined revenue created would be used to pay for the cost of official fees and state tournament expenses now paid out of the general fund. Myhr estimated this would save the district $10,000.

Another estimated $4,000 could be raised by increasing the “pay to participate” fees to cover the full cost of the activity. Fees could go up to $200, and that made some parents nervous.

One parent asked if the district would consider scholarships for students who couldn’t afford the fee increase.

While Myhr couldn’t guarantee that option, he said he would hate to see any child not participate because of the cost.

The crowd applauded a woman who asked why the proposed budget took a magnifying glass to instructional support, but not to sports or cocurricular activities.

Myhr responded, most funding for the cocurricular program is on a contractual basis, and cannot be changed, or at least not easily.

Teaching staff layoffs possible

The fastest way to save money, the cut that dares not speak its name, is certificated staff reduction. That means teachers.

Rather than giving Reduction in Force notices — potential pink slips — to full-time teachers, Myhr proposed eliminating two leave replacement positions and shifting a library specialist to classroom teaching. This move, without actually laying off anyone, would save the district $119,306. They could also consider not hiring a teacher at the middle or high school if a vacancy is created this summer, for a $59,653 saving. These options would put $178,959 back on the plus side, about half of the deficit.

Other funding options Myhr presented for consideration, although they would not be his first choices, are using $45,000 in levy funds now reserved for technology, and using $60,000 in curriculum adoption levy funds earmarked for replacing grades K-5 math and grades 6-12 reading and literature curricula.

Other proposed cuts include include instructional programs, for a $53,154 savings:

l Increase tuition amount paid by UW College to the high school students, $1,550.

l End lay reader support, $546.

l End grades 3, 6 and 9 writing assessment, $4,000.

l Reduce Learning Partner Program funding, $16,000.

l End ESD media center membership, $7,058.

l Put 20 percent of Medicaid Match dollars back into general fund, $10,000.

l Retain 10 percent of Cedar Program revenues in general fund, $14,000.

l Proposed reductions in classified staff, for a saving of $113,268:

l End Volunteer Coordinator position, $11,218.

l Reduce paraprofessionals, secretaries on parent conference and early release days, $36,382.

l Cut middle and high school secretarial coverage by 8 hours daily, $32,450.

l Reduce evening custodial hours by 25 percent, $33,450.

Myhr also proposed charging a fee for facility use to community members and organizations, to cover actual costs associated with use, for $1,000 in revenue.

In addition to the two public forums this past week, there will be public comment periods at the May 19 and June 16 school board meetings, as well as a pubic hearing on the full draft of the budget at the July 21 school board meeting. The budget will be adopted at that meeting.

Myhr urged the participants at the forums to maintain a cooperative spirit.

“Let’s stay above the fray and get to that July board meeting,” he said.

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