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.