Port Angeles school panel sifts through ideas for budget cuts

PORT ANGELES — A special Port Angeles School District committee will sift through 35 pages of suggestions for cutting millions from next year’s budget, release a list of possibilities on March 30 and make recommendations to the School Board in April.

The district has held several meetings and forums — the last having been Tuesday — to gather ideas from the public for cutting $2.93 million from its $39.5 million budget for the 2010-11 school year.

Suggestions also came in by e-mail and mail to the Port Angeles School District Fiscal Advisory Committee, an 18-member group composed of staff members, administrators — including Superintendent Jane Pryne — School Board President Lonnie Linn and community representatives.

End of the month

When the ideas are released at the end of the month, they will be unranked. By April, the committee will have recommendations for the School Board to consider.

Fiscal advisory committee members have talked with the School Board, district staff, parents and other members of the public to draw out ideas for cuts.

About one-third of the proposed cuts are because of projections of declining enrollment, with the other two-thirds based on a worst-case scenario of state legislative funding slashes, said Jim Schwob, the district’s executive director of business and operations.

Schwob is also the chairman of the fiscal advisory committee, a nonvoting position.

“We were somewhat shocked with what we are hearing versus what we were prepared to cut,” Schwob said.

The district expects to lose about $1 million as a result of the loss of 137 students — a trend that has caused millions in budget cuts over the course of the past decade.

The rest of the cuts are expected from the state Legislature — which is in special session working to resolve differences between House and Senate bills.

“We took the absolute worst-case scenario and are estimating cuts based on that,” Schwob said.

“We — all of us in the state — are just waiting to hear what is going to happen. We have no way of knowing until this bill comes out of reconciliation.”

Schwob said district officials had hoped to know more about potential cuts weeks ago.

“But now we are just waiting to see what will happen,” he said.

Schwob said the state Legislature, which is struggling to close a $2.8 billion deficit in the state’s budget through June 2011, intends to delay state appropriations to school districts by a month, so teachers’ June salaries will be paid out of reserves.

Public suggestions

Suggestions from the public have ranged from cutting administrative costs to instituting a four-day work week to cutting school athletic programs.

“We are looking into everything,” Schwob said.

“Unfortunately, some ideas we cannot do because it would be illegal.”

Among those that would be illegal is the suggestion for a four-day work week, he said.

He said many people are working hard to think of creative ideas for cutting programs without sacrificing educational goals.

“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a magic bullet,” Schwob said. “I wish that there was.”

Schwob also said the district isn’t proposing school closures since class sizes haven’t reduced to a low-enough level to justify such a move.

District officials are considering selling or leasing property not in current use.

Questions, comments or suggestions may be e-mailed to budget@portangeles schools.org or sent by mail to Fiscal Advisory Committee, Port Angeles School District, 216 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles, WA 98362.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

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