School budget cuts on the way

MARYSVILLE School District Finance Director Jim Baker said officials must slice between $700,000 and $900,000 from the 2008-2009 budget.

The school board plans a public meeting on the proposed cuts 6:30-7:30 p.m., May 14, in the board room of the Educational Service Center, 4220 80th St. NE.

"Budget cuts each spring are an increasing challenge for us," said Superintendent Larry Nyland. "Our cuts this year are less than the last several years, but still difficult. Each year we have fewer and fewer options to make cuts, we see greater impacts that affect classrooms."

As he discusses cuts, Baker repeatedly talks about cuts in basic education and in specially funded programs. Basic education consists of pretty much what it sounds like, namely the day-to-day operations of the district which largely are funded by the state.

Baker hopes basic education cuts can total roughly $541,634.

Among other steps, Baker is recommending slicing library help, eliminating a so-called elementary school specialist and reducing district nurse supervisors from

three to five.

He also talked about eliminating the replacement of certain district equipment and cutting a print shop position.

Elementary school specialists serve a number of educational support functions and Baker's hope is smaller district schools can share staff.

Baker said he had created all his recommendations after discussions with other school administrators, teachers and district union leaders.

Looking beyond general education, Baker said last week cuts still are under discussion but those recommendations should be available by the May 14 public hearing. Some areas being studied include, in no particular order, special education, student transportation and food services.

As school officials begin their latest budgeting process, Baker said this is the fourth year running that they will need to be looking at cutting expenses. He put the blame largely on the state.

For example, Baker said legislators included in the latest round of state dollars a 4 percent salary increase for school staffers, but that money does not fund raises across the board in all programs offered by the district.

"We have to treat everybody the same by contract," Baker said.

With a total budget projected at about $105 million, the district has a reserve of about $3.5 million. To be what he would consider truly fiscally sound, Baker believes that reserve should be doubled to $7 million. He definitely does not support the idea of dipping into the reserve.

While $900,000 might not represent a huge percentage of the district's overall budget, Baker again noted this is the fourth year officials are going to have to make cuts.

"We are coming up with fewer and fewer choices," he said, echoing Nyland's comments. Baker further predicted that unless changes are made in state funding, more cuts would be needed locally in the future.

There is no chance that the district, even if officials wanted to, could approach Marysville voters for more local dollars. State law prevents the district from collecting any more local money than already is coming in.

"We've already done everything we can do locally because of the levy lid," Baker said.

Essentially, the district cannot collect more than 24 percent of its budget locally no matter what voters have approved. For example, during the current tax year, the district could be collecting roughly $16.6 million based on voter-sanctioned levies. But with the 24 percent limit, collections will reach roughly $16 million, about $500,000 shy of the amount voters approved.

Baker added the levy collections do not rise with property values, something he called a common misconception. Further, while district voters have approved, in the past few years, dollars for various construction projects, by law that money must go into those projects and cannot be used for operating expenses.

Among others, the projects include the new Getchell High School and the options campus on the Tulalip Reservation.

While Baker is recommending certain cuts, he also will present the board with numerous other potential means to reduce spending. Those possibilities include everything from reducing counselors or custodians, to cutting various support programs and, as has been mentioned in the past, closing the Marysville-Pilchuck High School swimming pool.

The board has the final word and can follow any or none of Baker's recommendations.

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