Clark County school officials pore over state budget details

They say it’ll be a few days before real effects can be determined

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: May 25, 2011, 10:59 PM

 

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Local school leaders on Wednesday sifted through details of the final budget deal adopted Tuesday by state legislators in Olympia.

What they found brought a mixture of relief, resignation and frustration.

Important to know: Not all portions of the state’s two-year budget, relative to grades K-12 education, were complete. And the fine-print details mean a few more days before budget impacts can be proclaimed with any confidence, leaders said.

Lawmakers on Wednesday tussled over whether to slash per-pupil state support for students enrolled in alternative learning programs by either 10 or 20 percent, or by some other amount. Resting on the outcome was a potential half-million-dollar swing in state funding for Vancouver Public Schools, said budget director Steve Olsen.

Battle Ground administrators remained on pins and needles.

“It’s difficult to say what the impact will be, because we have so many alternative learning programs,” said Superintendent Shonny Bria.

They include the CAM junior and senior high schools, the HomeLink and River HomeLink campuses, and the alternative Summit View High School. That’s about 1,500 full-time equivalent students, nearly one-eighth of Battle Ground’s 12,500 students.

What Battle Ground does know: Scuttling voter-approved Initiative 728 and grades K-4 supplemental dollars will bring larger class sizes, about two students more per classroom, said budget director Mary Beth Lynn.

It’s a similar story across Clark County, where districts already issued tentative pink slips to some teachers and know they might be shuffling many school lineups.

Tuesday’s budget deal “was not the worst of the worst,” said Maggie Bates, Hockinson School District assistant superintendent whose position will be eliminated next month.

“However, let’s be clear: These are real cuts, and they impact what we can do,” Bates said.

In Vancouver, Olsen was resigned to a loss of about $10.5 million, hinging on the alternative education piece, from the compromise plan due for final Senate passage late Wednesday.

The compromise deal cuts state support for teacher pay by 1.9 percent rather than 3 percent written in a prior Senate plan. But an off-setting Senate boost to grades K-3 classrooms where free-and-reduced lunch rates indicate poverty was mostly gutted, Olsen noted.

“They just recarved the same pie, so (the total reduction) didn’t change much,” Olsen said.

Already, the Vancouver district has penciled out $12.1 million in combined budget cuts and revenue hikes. About $8 million in identified spending cuts — among options are closure of the Vancouver Early Childhood Center, shedding four instruction coaches and 16 central office employees, ending the GEAR UP college-readiness program and reducing school bus service — would present a nearly 4 percent reduction from the current school year budget of $213 million.

That compares with $16 million in “worst-case” budget cuts the district forecast months ago.

Best of all, the final gavel of the prolonged legislative session will have dropped. “We’re just thankful it didn’t extend into a second (special) session,” Olsen said. Further delay would only make carving out needed savings that much more difficult, he said.

Next up for Vancouver: A school board work session on Tuesday, in which Superintendent Steven Webb will unveil an updated “budget solutions” plan. No final action will be taken.

The Evergreen district, looking at budget cuts in the neighborhood of $10 million, is also likely to call a special board work meeting next week, a spokeswoman said.

Hockinson already has set a work session on June 6.

Battle Ground will crunch the new numbers before its four employee stakeholder groups sit down to start work negotiating a budget-cutting plan.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.