Local school districts face budget shortfalls, staff cuts in wake of McCleary decision

Local school districts face budget shortfalls, staff cuts in wake of McCleary decision
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Several local school districts are grappling with the idea that many teachers, who just last summer received big pay raises, may be without jobs next year because of a change in education funding.

The state’s McCleary decision led to big pay raises in some districts last summer, but school officials say it’s also led to budget shortfalls, which may mean job cuts next year — but there’s still a lot up in the air right now.

“It’s still really early in the process,” said Spokane Public Schools spokesperson Brian Coddington. “So, one of the things that we’re struggling with is we’re watching the legislature very closely because there’s some big discussions that are under way and some big answers we need from the legislature.”

The state legislature, Coddington said, is discussing a new, more expensive health insurance plan for teachers as well as special education funding.

“There’s about a $7.5 million difference between what special education costs us and what the state funds it at,” Coddington said. “So there’s a conversation right now in the legislature about whether that allocation changes.”

The size of staff cuts depends on that allocation. It’s a much different picture than this summer, when local teachers fought their way to pay raises between 12 and 15 percent in the Inland Northwest.

“We’ve got additional state funding that’s come in but at the same time we’ve had a corresponding reduction in the amount of local levies,” Coddington said. “In Spokane Public Schools’ case, a very significant amount. So $43.5 million over two years lost in local levy capacity.”

Mead School District assistant superintendent Wayne Leonard told KXLY the McCleary decision “was about equal funding rather than ample funding,” so the districts that relied on maintenance and operations levies are taking a hit.

“The fix wasn’t what a lot of people had in mind,” Leonard said.

Leonard said it’s been frustrating because the timing of this legislative session doesn’t match up with the timing of teacher contracts. Districts expect to have a better idea of how big job cuts will be when this session ends April 28, but need to give their unions a heads up of cuts April 15.

“Everything we do and every question we’re asking and every answer we’re seeking is about students and learning and making sure that we can deliver the best possible experience for students in the classroom,” said Coddington.

The Mead School District approved a financial emergency resolution at its board meeting Monday. That step could lay the groundwork for layoffs. The West Valley School District board is expected to approve a similar resolution at its meeting Wednesday and the Spokane Public Schools board will discuss budget strategies moving forward on Wednesday.

Reduction in force notices need to be given to certificated staff by May 15.

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