Kent School Board looks into closing some schools

Some Kent schools may be shut down next school year due to impending state budget cuts.

Some Kent schools may be shut down next school year due to impending state budget cuts.

The idea came from Kent School District staff looking for ways to sidestep the loss of federal and state funds. Kent School Board members unanimously approved the idea to look into the school district’s proposal at the last board meeting.

“Nothing concrete has been decided yet,” said Richard Stedry, the district’s chief business officer.

District staff hosted a legislative breakfast Nov. 17 at their administrative campus to discuss accomplishments and budget concerns. They urged the legislators present at the meeting to protect K-12 education funding as much as possible, saying that if reductions need to occur, they should take place early in the year for school boards and districts to begin crafting their budgets.

State Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington from the 47th District, Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines from the 33rd and a staff member from the office of Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, voiced their support of the school district and noted past efforts to maintain funding for public education, according to Chris Loftis, district spokesman.

Loftis said the district is facing a possible $3 million reduction during the upcoming mid-year legislative session. District officials say there are options for making up that loss of revenue, including tapping the district’s fund balance.

In 2010, the school board opted for that choice when the state stripped money from the district’s budget. By using district reserve funds, programs and staffing positions were not impacted.

However, when the school board had to plan the 2011-2012 budget the reduction was more than $5 million.

“What’s positive is that our enrollment is up this year and everything we predicted in our budget is happening so far,” Stedry said.”I would say our cash flow right now is sufficient to handle it.”

The Kent School Board unanimously approved a $308 million budget on Aug. 24 for this 2011-12 school year that is $18 million less than last year and includes 78 fewer jobs. The final cuts included 39 teachers. All but 10 of those were hired back to fill other vacancies created by retirements, career and family moves and other attrition.

The district does not know yet how much money closing schools would save.

“This is a very systematic process and we will be analyzing the cost benefit to doing this and looking many other issues before any decisions are made,” Stedry said.

District staff will present their findings to the board in March to determine if they should continue with the process of closing schools. If the school board votes yes, they must hold a public hearing to get input from the community.

According to Stedry the decision to close schools would be made in April 2012.

“I am worried about the effects state budget cuts will have on our district next year, but I am more worried about what will happen two or three years down the road,” Stedry said. “If the state continues down the road they are on, pretty soon there will be nothing left to cut.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed $2 billion in budgets cuts Oct. 27 that would increase class sizes in public schools by two students in grades 4-12, reduce support to colleges and universities by 15 percent and cut levy equalization payments to property-poor school districts in half. She also recommended delaying a state payment to public schools by one day, pushing $330 million of state spending into the next two-year budget.

“Hearing something like this makes people want to push the panic button,” Stedry said. “But we have consistently planned our budget for each school year well. The important thing is to not panic and to constantly be aware of what’s going on.”

The governor reminded the public in her October speech that her proposed cuts are recommendations for now and she’ll talk to the communities and groups that will be affected before releasing a full budget next month.

“We could lose nothing or we could lose $8 or $10 million,” Stedry said. “What we do is take the governor’s proposed budget to plan for our school year, because nine times out of 10, it is more severe than what the legislation settles on.”

Reach Sarah Kehoe at skehoer@kentreporter.com or 253-872-6600 ext. 5056.

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