Northwest NEWS

March 22, 1999

Front Page

Northshore School District tightens belt, reduces expenses

by Deborah Stone

   Recently, there has been much discussion in Northshore about school district budget cuts. It was determined in January that a reduction of $1.8 million in overall expenditures was necessary in order to end the fiscal year with a minimum fund balance of $3 million. Board policy mandates that there is a cash reserve of between three to five percent of the general fund expenditures to maintain good bond ratings and to have enough money in the bank for unforeseen emergencies.

   The budget problem resulted from several factors. The school district projected a 2.4 percent growth in enrollment, but ended with only a 1.2 percent growth. This resulted in $1.6 million less revenue in both basic and special education programs.

   Also, as a result of legislative action, Northshore had to absorb a loss of levy revenues of $1.8 million in each of the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years (however, this capacity will be restored in 1999, allowing the district to return to its full levy authorization level). In addition, implementation of a new language arts curriculum and adoption of a new math curriculum to improve student achievement has incurred costs for both materials and teacher training.

   Collective bargaining with multiple unions resulted in a number of pay raises, in order to remain competitive with other nearby districts. Finally, there has been a decrease in interest earnings as a result of both lower interest rates and a lower principal on which to earn interest.

   The district has had to examine every aspect of their operation to determine essential and non-essential items in targeting where to make the budget cuts. Primary goals of keeping instruction programs at their highest level and maintaining the necessary minimum fund balance were kept in the forefront during this process.

   "Modifications have been made now to help us achieve these goals," says Pamela Steele, Northshore School District Communications Director. "Expenses have been reduced and all of them are non-people-related. We did things like freezing the travel budget, deferring purchases of equipment, and putting reserve budgets for individual schools on hold. At this time, it appears that we will end the year with a fund balance between $2.5 and $3 million."

   While these modifications solve the current year's problems, the District's ongoing operational costs and budgetary unknowns for next year require a conservative approach to laying the groundwork for 1999-2000. Northshore's expenditures over the past two years have increased due to education reform requirements, increased teacher-training needs, standards and assessment work, a need for updated systems, and improvements in collective bargaining.

   The District has emphasized its focus on improving its ability to meet the educational needs of all students and helping its staff understand and adapt to the new educational reforms. During this two-year period, staff numbers have increased to deal with workloads and growth. As a result, the District overstaffed on an unrealized enrollment, which directly impacts the amount of funds it receives from the state. The reality of the situation indicates a need to bring staffing levels in line with available funding.

   "We need to get ourselves realigned," Steele explained. "A three-percent growth increase is projected for next year and this is the lowest growth in about the past ten years or so. We are not alone in this. Lots of school districts are projecting a very small increase or they're at a flat line with no growth. Right now we are looking at how to best utilize our existing contracted staff. As it stands, a total of fifty-one positions will be affected. This includes thirty-six certificated positions and fifteen classified. All staffing adjustments will be made through reassignments and attrition."

   Among the positions to be eliminated are: three assistant directors and coordinators of content areas within the curriculum department (there will no longer be specific K-12 content area coordinators in any of the areas central), twelve secondary teachers, ten elementary teachers, and possibly nine positions in special education.

   The staffing changes will take place effective Aug. 1, 1999. Penny Pfiester, president of Northshore Education Association, says, "Nobody's going to be losing their jobs. This is a misnomer. The enrollment figures dictate the need for budget modifications and staffing adjustments are necessary."

   According to a recent Budget Update Special Issue prepared by Thom Dramer, executive director of Instructional Services, the changes that are being made will allow the District to focus on implementing what is currently in place and examine what is and isn't working.

   "It is our belief that with fewer people and fewer dollars available, we need to look even more closely at what we do and how it helps students to reach standard," writes Dramer. "We must slow down in many areas and focus on the few things that will make the most difference."