Spokane Public Schools looks at bringing back school specialists following massive budget cuts, layoffs

SPOKANE, Wash. — A Spokane Public Schools work group is looking at the possibility of bringing school specialists, like librarians, back into the fold, despite making cuts away from the classroom and issuing hundreds of layoff notices last year due to a $31 million budget gap.

The district was forced to make cuts when the state supreme court signed off on what has been known as the ‘McCleary fix,’ which called for the state to take over education funding, leaving the district without local levy money. The Spokane Public Schools board approved a $462 million budget with a $31 million shortfall in August. District spokesperson Brian Coddington said the change led to the elimination of the librarian position.

“Reducing that specialist model allowed us to save some money — it also reduced the number of transitions that occur during a school day,” said Coddington.

Fewer transitions, he said, has translated to more time in the classroom for students, early release on Fridays, and more money in the district’s pocket.

“Because of all the belt-tightening and the tough decisions that were made last year, we’re in a little bit better financial situation this year,” said Coddington. “Last year, we were about $31 million negative at this point in time. This year, we’re better than half of that.”

Now, the district is asking for parent input on the possibility of bringing school specialists — in health and fitness, music, art, science and library — back to local schools next year. The district will be hosting three community forums this week to form a recommendation on a new elementary specialist model.

In a post on its website, the district wrote “any recommendations the work group makes must operate within the current budget climate, establish a consistent districtwide model, minimize transitions and maximize instructional minutes, support the district’s academic goals, and meet the terms of the recently approved collective bargaining agreement.”

The work group is comprised of teachers, specialists, principals, and parents.

Community forums begin at 6 p.m. in the libraries of the following schools on:

  • Monday Jan. 27 at Sacajawea Middle School, 401 E. 33rd Avenue
  • Tuesday Jan. 28 at Chase Middle School, 4747 E. 37th Avenue
  • Wednesday Jan. 29 at Shaw Middle School, 4016 N. Cook Street

The group will take input from these community forums and pass it along to the school board, who is expected to finalize the district’s budget in June or July.

“We feel really good about the progress that’s been made,” Coddington said. “There’s definitely more work to do and that’s what will be done over the next few months.”