The Mount Baker School Board has approved a $20.5 million budget for 2012-13 that includes teacher and other staff layoffs to help close a $1.9 million deficit.
The district also will spend $200,000 of its reserves in the next school year under the general fund budget approved July 26. The general fund pays for the school district’s daily operations.
The budget plans for continued declining enrollment, with 100 fewer students in the next school year.
“The only responsible way to budget is to expect a trend to continue,” said Charles Burleigh, the new superintendent for Mount Baker School District. “If we end up seeing more students, then that’s good news for Mount Baker.”
He added: “But we need to be responsible and budget for the worst case.”
School districts receive funding based on the number of students enrolled, not on the number of teachers and other staff. Once a district sets its baseline staffing in the spring for the following school year, the number of positions can increase but can’t decrease.
To help close the deficit, the district has laid off 10 teachers (or eight full-time equivalent positions) as well as cut the job of the director of transportation/maintenance and the curriculum director post that had been temporarily filled by an employee who was reassigned to another job. Classified staff also were affected, with layoffs and cutbacks in hours totaling three full-time equivalent positions.
Still, there’s a bright note in the coming year as the school district will be able to offer full-day kindergarten five days a week at all of its elementary schools beginning this fall.
Prior to the expansion, that schedule was available only at Kendall. Come fall, kindergarten at Acme and Harmony will grow from three days a week to five.
“It’s something that has been a priority for the school board for years, the focus on early childhood education. We’re very excited and look forward to this being an ongoing part of our program,” Burleigh said of expanding kindergarten.
The expansion also allowed the school district to bring back two teachers.
“They had been laid off and were recalled because we were able to do this,” Burleigh said.
Money for kindergarten expansion comes from Title 1 funds that are in a separate pot of money than the general fund.
Those funds — a substantial portion of which had been required to be set aside for tutoring programs run by outside agencies and for potential transportation costs — were freed up after Washington state received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind requirements in July, giving the school district the chance to use the money in a way it couldn’t before.
Title 1 is a federal program that provides financial assistance to educational agencies and public schools that have high numbers of poor children, with the goal of helping those children meet state academic standards.
Burleigh said the district’s spending level is sustainable going into the future because of increasing levy amounts approved by voters in February.
The school district will be collecting the full amount of those levies beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
More than 700 people showed up at Roosevelt Elementary School the evening of Thursday, May 24, to see student performances and artwork.
It was the Bellingham school’s second annual Children’s Art Festival Extravaganza.
The school’s 430 students each displayed several pieces of art.
Roosevelt also held a dedication ceremony for the Poet Tree — a sculpture created by artist Tony Hermanutz.
Hermanutz donated it to the school.
Editor’s note: The Bellingham School District hast just posted a message from Superintendent Greg Baker about the 2012-13 budget, including community feedback about proposed cuts. I posted Baker’s message below.
Click here to read our previous story about the budget.
Dear Bellingham Families,
Thank you for taking the time to stay informed and share your thinking about our budget development process. Since April 23rd, the video of our budget presentation to the Parent Advisory Council has been viewed nearly 900 times and we’ve received feedback from dozens of people through the related online survey. The timing of our process to develop The Bellingham Promise has also been helpful in terms of the dialogue and opportunity to clarify our priorities together. From conversations and meetings with parents, staff members, and community leaders, as well as emails and survey responses, several themes have emerged in the feedback and those themes are highlighted below.
After several years of budget reductions, I imagine it will not surprise you to know that there weren’t any magic bullets in the feedback we received. Many responses acknowledged the difficulties involved in allocating resources to continue to move our priorities forward while making the reductions necessary to create a balanced budget.
Throughout the month of May, we will continue to refine and build the 2012-13 budget so that it is ready for board action in June. We will leave the survey link open through the end of this week. If additional thoughts or ideas come to mind, please feel welcomed to share them with us there.
Note: If you shared your thoughts with us, please don’t worry if your specific question or comment isn’t represented below; all of the feedback we received electronically and in person is being considered. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but is an overview of the areas which generated the most discussion or comments.
Many people shared questions and concerns about the impacts associated with increasing class sizes. There is a long list of things to be frustrated about when it comes to state and federal funding; this issue is clearly at the top. We have worked hard to absorb the state’s progressively deeper funding cuts while protecting class sizes as much as possible. As I mentioned in earlier budget updates, if we allowed the state and federal cuts to flow straight through our system, they would increase class sizes by 4-5 students. We are able to mitigate some of that impact with local funding, and when I last updated you we were targeting an increase of 2-3 students. As we have continued to refine next year’s budget, we have decided to invest a bit more in staffing at the middle and high school levels in order to slow the rate of class size increase and give those levels more time to adjust to the changes. Our current draft of the budget is now targeting an increase of 0.7 – 2.5 students.
Some concern has been expressed around preserving course options in our high school program, and we know that reduced staffing at our high schools cannot help but result in fewer course offerings. Fortunately, we do have some resources already in place that we can use to help mitigate some of the impacts for our students. Online learning is one of those resources and our Teaching and Learning Department will be working with secondary administrators and staff to identify the best use of this resource to support our students’ needs. We can also continue to look for opportunities for students to access courses that are available at other district high schools when those courses aren’t available in their neighborhood school.
A few people, including students, pointed out opportunities to reduce waste and save on utility costs, for example, by remembering to turn off lights and computers. Although our district has done some important work in this area and continues to benefit from efficiencies introduced over the last four years, there is always room for improvement. I have asked a couple of our colleagues with knowledge and interest in this area to work together to help our district take the next steps.
Comments about our district’s decision to provide basic school supplies to elementary students generally focused on two questions: whether it is an appropriate activity during this economic climate and whether the process itself could be improved. Speaking to the first question, the current economic climate makes the issue of equity more important than ever. Family and community feedback led us to research this matter last year and what we found was astonishing. The costs associated with each school’s supply list ranged from around $20 per student at some schools to more than $200 per student at others. And some of our most economically disadvantaged school communities were the very ones with the most expensive supply lists. Our community has been generous with its funding of local levies and, ideally, we would use those dollars to eliminate all student fees and provide a truly free, appropriate education to all of Bellingham’s students. Since eliminating all fees is not possible at this time, we will at least continue to ensure that we support equity between our schools by providing students with the basic provisions necessary for starting school each year.
Speaking to the second question, there is a fair amount of energy around improving the process for how supplies are acquired and distributed. There may be opportunities to reduce costs by systemizing the process more and looking at partnerships, perhaps with parent groups. Deputy Superintendent Tom Venable will convene a group of staff members and parents to think this through and identify opportunities for improvement.
Small School Closures
Many people asked if we should consider closing our smallest schools. It is true that it is more expensive to run small schools, especially when there is capacity available at other schools in the district. Closing schools, however, is not a fast process and it should not be undertaken lightly. Families and communities have strong, sometimes historic, ties to their local schools, and the process of engaging a community in a conversation around consolidation / school closures is rightly one that takes more time than we have between now and the 2012-13 school year. That said, we are getting ready to bring together a citizens advisory committee to undertake a comprehensive facilities study, likely starting this summer/fall. For such a group to do their best work they must be free to consider and discuss all options, including the question of whether the district should continue to operate small schools. Any recommendation to close schools would be broadly communicated and would involve the affected staff members and families.
District Resource Officer
This position was listed as a possible reduction in the budget presentation. We used to have several police officers dedicated to our middle and high schools, and have reduced this program over the years down to one officer for our entire district. Because our one officer shares his time between all of our schools, it can be hard for people in one school to see the positive impact he is having for our kids and our overall safety. I spent some time with the Police Chief talking about this program and we both agree that keeping our DRO is important. The Police Department will take on a larger share of the cost for next year in order to help us keep this valuable partnership going.
A few of the comments related to administrative costs and the reductions listed for next year. Some people asked if there could be further reductions in this area and others expressed concern about our ability to maintain sufficient leadership support and coordination of service with the reductions that were outlined in the budget presentation. Research is clear; strong leadership and central support is critical in order to accomplish a system of excellence (not just pockets of excellence) for all children. It will require creativity and a change in how we deliver support, but we believe we can responsibly make the administrative reductions outlined in the budget proposal, totaling about $340,000, and still make progress toward our shared goals.
Compensation / Employee Contracts
Some people asked whether the district should be back-filling the 1.9-3% salary reduction imposed by the state and a few people asked whether it is possible for everyone to take a small pay cut so that no jobs get cut. Both of those ideas are possible, but complicated. Changing any contracts would require the agreement of all parties to re-open (re-negotiate) the contract.
Highly Capable Learners
Feedback on this issue were mixed. Some people expressed appreciation for the expansion outlined in the budget proposal; some thought it didn’t go far enough; and some wondered why we would consider expanding this program in light of other reductions. The conversations we had together around The Bellingham Promise make it clear that we have a shared value around serving all of Bellingham’s children. Our current HCL program serves some kids in some schools and leaves others out. The proposed expansion is fairly modest, but helps move us in the right direction toward a more equitable distribution of support for this program.
Early Childhood Education Coordinator
I got a lot of feedback that our investment in early childhood education is important and valuable. While many people are appreciative of the suggestion to add a half-time Early Childhood Coordinator and a few people wondered why we are investing here while we are making reductions elsewhere, the majority of feedback was that that the proposal to create a half-time position didn’t go far enough. I heard from several people who are concerned that we need more support in this area in order to fully capitalize on our investment in full-time kindergarten. As we have looked at how we can be strategic in the use of our special education funding, it is clear that – like in general education – dollars invested in early childhood needs are more than offset by lower costs in later years. I am pleased to announce that, by combining resources from both funds, we will be able to make this position into a full-time TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) position.
Thank you for taking the time share your feedback and help us improve our thinking about this complicated puzzle. We will continue to refine and adjust the draft budget over the next couple weeks in preparation for board action in June.
DEMING – The Mount Baker School District will cut programs and lay off employees to close a $1.95 million deficit in the 2012-13 budget.
To help bridge that gap, the district is proposing to cut its workforce by 23.1 full-time equivalent positions, with 14.4 of that in teaching. The remainder is in classified and administrative staff.
How many people that translates into is being worked out still.
The proposed employee reductions would save nearly $1.6 million.
District voters approved two levies in February, but that money won’t begin to come in until 2013. That amount is expected to total $375,000 in 2013.
State and federal budget cuts in recent years and declining enrollment are among the causes for the deficit, according to Karst Brandsma, interim superintendent for the school district.
Mount Baker also was overstaffed this school year because deadlines were missed last year and staffing levels weren’t reduced as planned, according to Brandsma.
He said part of the cuts will correct that, while acknowledging the impact on workers will be tough.
“That’s the part that’s the most difficult, ” Brandsma said, noting that about 83 percent of the district’s budget is for employees.
School districts receive funding based on the number of students enrolled, so fewer students mean fewer dollars.
Mount Baker is not alone in enrollment declines. Other districts in Whatcom County are seeing flat or declining enrollment.
This school year’s enrollment at Mount Baker is down by 108 students from the previous year. That downward trend is expected to continue next school year with enrollment dropping by another 123 to total 1,709 students.
In total, that translates into a funding loss of about $1.1 million, according to Brandsma.
Brandsma believes families leaving the district in search of jobs are driving the drop in enrollment.
The loss of Initiative 728 money also will mean fewer dollars for Mount Baker. In April, the state Legislature repealed that measure, which voters approved in 2000 to reduce class sizes in lower grades, after funding it inconsistently as finances tightened.
Meanwhile, the district has been drawing down its reserves by about $1 million a year beginning in the 2009-10 school year.
It’s expected to end this school year with $1.09 million, and the reserves fund can’t go lower than that, according to Brandsma.
To cut costs or raise revenue, the district may:
- eliminate a bus run for after-school activities on Fridays and reduce practices at the junior high level to help save about $20,000;
- reorganize Mount Baker Academy, which supports families that homeschool, for a saving of $35,000;
- charge adults 25 cents more to eat school lunches, increase pay-to-play by $5 per student, and bump up the fee for facility use – all to bring in another $10,000.