Northwest NEWS

March 25, 2002

School

NSD deals with sour economy

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   Northshore School District (NSD) expects to lose about $1.5 million as a result of state budget cuts.
   But the bad news doesn't stop there. They expect to hear more information about federal cuts as well, said district spokeswoman Pamela Steele.
   Along with the cuts, unfortunately, have come increased costs for next year, said Steele.
   "There will be $820,000 in COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) payments that the state doesn't fund (per Initiative 732)," she said.
   "There are $385,000 in step-increments that the district is contractually obligated to pay. Add to that the fact that costs of utilities have increased.
   "Last year the district's gas bill went up by 40 percent. Water and sewer went up by 20 percent."
   Furthermore, there is a new federal mandate, the No Child Left Behind legislation that will have impacts - costs - that are yet to be determined, explained Steele.
   "I guess you'd call it an under-funded mandate," she said. "The district has to look at the horizon and anticipate it. Even if we can't explicitly define it, we have to keep our eyes open ... be aware that it will (represent an additional) cost."
   "So, when you total the state cuts, the projected federal cuts along with the increased costs, the district is (estimating) a $3.5 million shortfall," said Steele.
   And with a shortfall that size, "Everything gets a lot more complicated," she said.
   "We have 11 groups of employees represented by different unions. The majority has open contracts this year.
   "Eighty-four percent of our budget is people - salaries and benefits. We don't have a lot of wiggle room," Steele said.
   One of the groups of employees that has recently entered into negotiations with the school district is the Northshore Education Association (NSEA), which represents 1,200 faculty members. The union and the school district have had three table sessions so far and have a couple all-day sessions planned for the weeks ahead.
   Apparently the groups are in the discovery stage of bargaining, collecting information, asking questions, exchanging interest statements, discussing priorities.
   "The Northshore School District," said Laurie Ferwerda, chief bargainer for the district, "has had a very good longstanding relationship with the NSEA."
   "Community support has been phenomenal," said Aaron Feik, president of the NSEA, citing three school initiatives that voters passed recently, two of which passed by some 70 percent.
   "(Community support) eases our burden to some extent," said Feik.
   Chief bargainer for the teachers union Tom Carter said, "The district has some of the same concerns the union has: how to keep and attract excellent employees."
   Carter said the union could rail against the state Legislature, complaining about the education budget cuts.
   "But what's the point? We have to work together. We have to deal with the cards dealt by Olympia.
   "We are assuming a lot more ownership of the issues, and ownership means rolling sleeves up, ... taking a less defensive posture, keeping things fluid," said Carter.
   "We feel we are full partners with the district and we look forward to resolving (the issues) as best we can."