Evergreen leaders outline budget cuts for 2011-12

Reduction recommendations not as deep as initially feared; public forums scheduled to address concerns

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Public meetings

Evergreen Public Schools is offering two community forums to discuss the district’s budget for the 2011-12 school year. Superintendent John Deeder and Finance Director Mike Merlino will be on hand to address residents’ concerns and ideas.

• 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday: Wy’east Middle School, 1112 S.E. 136th Ave.

• 6:30 to 8 p.m. July 13: Frontier Middle School, 7600 N.E. 166th Ave.

A public hearing on the final budget plan will be at the Aug. 9 school board meeting, with final adoption expected on Aug. 23.

Evergreen Public Schools Superintendent John Deeder’s $9.5 million in recommended cuts to the 2011-12 budget align with what he identified as the district’s priorities: keeping teachers in the classroom, making sure students are safe and continuing professional development for staff.

Deeder and Finance Director Mike Merlino discussed the proposed changes in an hourlong webcast Thursday evening. The district will host two community forums in coming weeks before adopting the final budget on Aug. 23.

“I think we’ve learned to become much more efficient, but there’s a time when the efficiency starts to become not efficient but to the bone, and we’re getting close to that,” Deeder said.

The district’s 2010-11 budget was $241.6 million.

Deeder’s recommended cuts follow $16.3 million in school district reductions made since 2008 but weren’t as deep as initially feared.

This spring, district officials prioritized cuts for a worst-case scenario budget that would have reduced spending by $24 million. The state Legislature’s decision to protect levy-equalization dollars reduced the depth of the cuts, Deeder said. Evergreen schools receive about $14 million in levy-equalization dollars, the third-highest amount in the state, he said.

Among Deeder’s recommendations:

• Cutting 10 teaching positions to save $780,000, a dramatic drop from the original worst-case recommendation of 130 positions.

• Sparing librarians, high school counselors and school resource officers. The worst-case budget originally proposed $2.3 million in savings by eliminating school librarians, $330,000 in savings by cutting one high school counselor at each high school and $350,000 by eliminating school resource officers.

The biggest reduction among the recommendations is to special education.

Deeder proposed cutting special-education services by $2.4 million, an increase from the original recommendation of $2 million.

After the 2010-11 school year, the district lost about $3 million in federal stimulus funding for special education, Merlino said.

In some special-education programs, such as occupational and physical therapy, caseloads in the Evergreen district are significantly smaller than in other similar districts. The district will continue to work with the employee unions to more closely align its caseload numbers with those of other districts, Deeder said. The savings will come from following a different model and having fewer staff members, he said.

Other recommendations:

• Reducing the number of high school academic coaches ($155,000 in savings) and eliminating one full-time equivalent middle school counselor position ($80,000 in savings).

• Reducing drug and alcohol intervention specialists to save the district $250,000. The original recommendation was to eliminate all intervention specialists positions to save $450,000.

• Eliminating fifth-grade environmental science field trips to save $40,000.

• Middle school football and fifth-grade band programs will not be entirely cut as proposed earlier, but music and athletic programs will each be cut by $175,000.

• Reducing clerical support at the middle and high schools to save $377,000.

• Eliminating elementary school instructional assistants positions to save $100,000.

• Cutting costs in supplies and materials to save $800,000.

• Reduce maintenance services to save $500,000.

• Not replacing retiring employees to save $165,000 at the administrative level.

• Cut clerical support at the district level by $148,000.

All of the cuts, Deeder said, will have an impact. But the superintendent said the district will continue to provide its students with a quality education.

“When it’s all said and done, I think when we start the 2011-12 school year, we’re going to have a great school year,” Deeder said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.