May 6, 2008

OSD budget forum attracts massive turnout

Tonight's community forum at the Knox Center gave over two hundred Olympians a chance to share thoughts about the projected $2 million school district budget cuts. The event filled the Board Room and a spillover room hastily arranged upstairs. As the meeting began people stood along side walls and out in the hallway.

To start the forum, Jim Crawford, Assistant Superintendent and the night's emcee, gave a 15 minute synopsis of the budget process. In short, projected costs and revenues are both increasing, but costs grow faster. Combine this with a needed 5% contingency fund--$4 million--and we'll have to trim about $2 million from next year's expenses. "Reductions to balance the 2008-2009 budget will help forestall major additional reductions in 2009-10," Crawford's PowerPoint noted. Or, in his words: "Our outlook for the following year is another deficit... If we can solve this now, we won't be in this position next year."

Crawford also explained why the publicized cut sheet [pdf] wasn't as much cause for alarm as some think. "There are more cuts on this sheet than we're going to need to adopt, and that's very intentional... We want to hear from you before we [make cuts]."

Students, parents, teachers, and other concerned community members crammed around tables for the next hour and a half, discussing, debating, brainstorming, grousing, and, for the most part, learning a lot about their neighbors' values and their own. I sat in the back corner, sometimes blogging, sometimes taking part in a lively discussion led by constituents of Capital and Olympia's Drill Teams.

Along with Crawford, Board members Russ Lehman, Frank Wilson, and Carolyn Barclift, and Superintendent Bill Lahmann circulated throughout the tables, answering a constant barrage of questions about all things budgetary.

I had to go at 8:00, leaving behind an animated group who filled several poster pages with suggestions. The one I liked best: instead of cutting two or three programs--Drill, wrestling, or swimming--cut 5% from all sports and activities, saving roughly the same amount. "We can figure out how to make it work," said Angela Mattox, Oly's Drill Team coach, and I agree.

As he closed his introduction, Crawford said he "really is heartened" by the turnout. Me, too. I came away energized by the civil participation and spirited discussions by so many people crammed into such a small space. I think most folks left with a far better understanding of the challenges we face--and how to creatively solve them.

Speaking of solutions, I've updated the interactive spreadsheet. Download it, and give it a shot: save us $2 million. If you're successful, send your plan to Peter Rex or Jim Crawford. You can be a hero.

Update: The Olympian's wrapup is decent. I'd just add that those who "appeared to be students" actually were--and were at least a quarter of the participants.


carla borgaard said...

I was able to get some questions answered last night by Jim Crawford and Bill Lahmann.

PAS is going away (as we know) that funding has been cut by the legislature. LAP money ($100K) will come from the state (line item 27) but could be shifted to continue to support the PAS program. I forgot to ask the question of whether that would then be used to help kids pass math and science WASLs. I would like to get more information on that as I'm not sure I would support that shift in funds.

According to Mr. Lahmann, line item 16, Life Skills Class is state mandated. They have to come up with $141K for that program...not optional.

Item #58 was not addressed last night. Again, more information would be good here. Cutting athletics but adding an athletic trainer raises obvious questions.

I have been exchanging voicemails with the District Homeless Coordinator. I was trying to get more information on the program. She did tell me that she serves 200-300 students and their families across the district. I feel it's important for those students to have a voice in the process as well. I was disappointed that not one group mentioned saving that position last night. I added it to our tables list, but it did not make the highlight reel. Any information you have is appreciated.

I got a budget from Peter Rex, F195 off the OSPI website. Pretty high level stuff. I asked for a line item budget and he said they don't keep one. He is checking on anything with more detail. I will forward it along if I get one.

More later...

Jim Anderson said...


I share your frustration about how the District hierarchizes and decentralizes the budget info from building to building. It makes accounting for specifics extremely difficult. (I talk about that in one of the links below.)

Now that most of the major options have been put on the table, by the District and others, I'm going to run through many of the suggestions and give my own thoughts on the matter. For example, I agree that the Homeless Coordinator's position is probably worth saving.

Everyone who's still reading: get your friends and neighbors to type up emails to the District (first, because the proposal's in their court) and, second, to their Board rep. They need thoughtful advice.

Maribeth Duffy said...

Hi Jim,
Since several administrator positions were added to the district in the last few years, despite knowing we needed to make cuts, it seems to me that those should be removed as part of these cuts.
The Teaching and Learning Curriculum Director was paid for out of the reserves. We have had that position for two years now.
The Math TOSA position was added to support the CMP2 curriculum, which was implemented reportedly to help students pass the math WASL.(which is going away)
The addition of both of these positions allowed Mr. McCauley to be promoted into an Assistant Superintendent position, necessitating a 16% raise. All this when 2 Million in cuts were needed according to Jim Crawford.(I served on the BAG that year so I know.)

At our group (by the way there were several groups upstairs) it was mentioned that other districts like Tumwater, don't have a central administration Athletic Director and since we previously managed with only the two HS athletic directors, this position seems less critical than classroom teachers as well.

Seems to me that if the district administration is truly being genuine, they need to be offering a lot more than $90,000 in cuts from central administration.

BTW, the Superintendent's comments from last night in the "O" sounded like no teachers would get pink slips. That's good and yet the end result is still the same for our students. It sounds like he is thinking he will make cuts through not refilling retiring teachers positions and retire/rehire positions(instead of pink slips being given to other teachers). This still means that class sizes will be increased even further - this is the second time in 4 years.
The message last night was clear. Keep cuts as far away from students as possible.

Anonymous said...

Cuts have already been made for next year by combining grades at the elementary level and losing some theachers through attrition. The saving will amount to about $350 K according to budget staff. I was surprised to see that this had not been added to the list of proposed cuts (or savings as it were). I believe this is a done deal, but no mention to the community who I guess will learn of this when they show up for school next fall and find their child is in some sort of split class that is at maximum capacity. Yes, this is a cut and you are correct that the end result to students is the same...larger class size. And, in this case now, multi-age class with teachers teaching (I guess) two separate curriculums.

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, I thought I saw that $350,000 elementary reorganization in the list.

The difficulty becomes finding cuts that are sufficient and sustainable. For example, cutting curriculum might work for this year--but that cost will come back.

Gas isn't getting any cheaper, either, and our enrollment isn't increasing. So... at some point, some contraction-by-attrition might be necessary. I say that as a teacher who's fairly low in seniority, and with a reluctant and heavy heart.

I agree that we ought to stay as far away from the classroom as possible--that's why I'll be continuing to parse the options and advocating for the least painful outcome.

Carla Borgaard said...

Jim and Maribeth-
I do think the elementary cuts are on the district list. But what isn't mentioned is that the district is looking into accomplishing this by combining grade levels to reach optimum student/staff levels. Jim--what is your perspective on this? I know parents are not going to like it, but what about teachers?

Also since my first post I have learned that the legislature cut funding for the PAS program because their own study showed it was not effective in helping students pass the WASL. Do you know anything about this? I will attempt to verify this fact and let you know.

I agree about finding cuts that are sustainable. I just can't really figure out what those are. I hear there were some great conversations two years ago with City of Oly regarding IT, but never went anywhere as OSD decided that transportation was something we wanted to continue to provide. I don't know that it is something we want to cut, but I do want to make sure we are keeping our options open and thinking creatively.

Yes, it is only going to get worse. Heard from a friend last night that works for the leg to expect funding for smaller class size to get worse next year. I didn't catch all the details but has something to do with I728 funding allocations. If districts want small class size, it will fall more to their own budgets to do so.

I do agree with Maribeth about how administrators were added out of the reserve. Two board members expressed concern at the time about hiring out of the reserve, pointing out that those salaries were not sustainable. One board member even commented that those were positions that could be cut in two years when the district would have to make budget cuts (regular board meeting, June 2006).