WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee School District revealed a first glimpse Tuesday night into what the state’s $5 billion budget hole has in store for local schools and staff.
In short, the district predicts a nearly $1.7 million cut to its $70 million budget. District staff outlined a general plan Tuesday night to make up the loss with more than $800,000 from reserves and $800,000 in cuts.
While the Legislature works out the last budget details, many of the major hits to education have been decided. Here are the major factors in Wenatchee’s $1.7 million shortfall:
• K-4 staff cuts — The state will cut about $500,000 from a fund to lower elementary class sizes. The funding might be partly restored for schools with more than 50 percent poverty, which represents eight of Wenatchee’s 13 schools.
• WestSide and Valley Academy — The schools are funded in part as alternative learning experience (ALE) programs, which lawmakers plan to pare by 10-20 percent.
• Benefit increases — The district will pay 30 percent more for pensions, the staff will pay more for insurance and the district’s unemployment costs have soared from $5,000 three years ago to $250,000.
• I-728 — A class-size initiative gave Wenatchee schools $3.6 million a few years ago, but has since been whittled down to zero.
• I-732 — A cost-of-living raise that staff members haven’t seen since 2008 is suspended again.
One of the biggest unknowns in the state budget is staff paychecks next year. The House proposed a freeze on salaries and pay bumps for experience and education. The Senate plan suggested a 3 percent pay cut.
School officials plan to cover more than half of the budget shortfall with reserves. The district’s savings account had nearly $5.1 million this year — enough to cover about 7 percent of the district’s expenses, said Les Vandervort, chief financial officer. He said the district needs at least a 5 percent reserve for emergencies, so that leaves more than $1.6 million available to pay down the budget shortfall.
“Always one of the questions is going to be can we cover this with all reserve? Yeah. Do want to do that? I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons,” Vandervort said, citing the unexpected $1 million hit passed down by the governor in December. “It could happen again this year. If you look at every forecast, they’re all more pessimistic than the one before. We have to have a little bit of play to deal with new situations.”
The other half of the budget shortfall will come out of operations. Here’s the breakdown:
• Reduce department budgets at the district office and administrative support budgets by $75,000 each. School operating budgets would be trimmed by $80,000.
• Find ways to shrink $100,000 from deficits in programs that run in the red every year, such as transportation, child care and special education.
• Cut unfunded staffing by $465,000, mainly by reducing classified staff — a category for employees who don’t have teaching credentials and are not administrators. The district office is working with the staff and union reps on whether those cuts mean fewer hours, layoffs or job attrition. About $60,000 will come from job attrition after teachers retire.
Vandervort said most of the cuts will likely go unnoticed by students and parents. All the major programs are still intact, including full-day kindergarten.
The district’s plan is still fairly general. District administrators, school staff and union representatives will meet this week to work out more specific impacts. More details on next year’s budget will be released at a public hearing on May 10.
The school district has weathered larger cuts in the past, including $2.1 million for this year’s budget and $3.4 million in the 2009-10 school year.
Rachel Schleif: 664-7139