SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane Public Schools board members postponed a vote on a budget proposal for the 2019-2020 school year on Wednesday night.
The budget would likely reduce the number of layoffs compared to numbers previously released by the district earlier this year.
Assistant Superintendent Linda McDermott gave a nearly half-hour presentation, which was followed by brief public comments and more than an hour of debate and questioning from board members.
Ultimately, the board balked at provisions in the budget that would create early release schedules for elementary schools every Friday, with many members expressing deep concern over the loss of instruction time.
During the meeting, there was repeated confusion over parliamentary procedure.
At one point, the board voted 4-1 to approve an amendment to the budget that would increase general fund spending by tapping into reserves. But then, after more discussion and information from staff, the board members decided they needed more time to review the specifics and voted to postpone.
A new meeting is expected to be held next week.
Nonetheless, because the amendment passed, it will be a different budget under consideration next week, one that would direct approximately $3.6 million in reserve funds to the general fund.
Staff will now work to identify where that money would go. Avenues discussed at the meeting included hiring the necessary staff to avoid early releases and reducing cuts to custodial services.
Original budget reduces layoffs
The original $459 million budget comes after the district announced potentially widespread layoffs for teaching and classified staff members.
SPS spokesperson Brian Coddington said the budget as written will not ask the voters for money through a levy on the November ballot. The district had previously considered asking voters for money to make up for budget deficits in November.
In April, SPS and several other Washington districts announced plans for significant staff layoffs following a change to the state education funding model.
The district initially issued 325 layoff notices to staff members, including 183 teaching-level staff.
In May, SPS announced that it dropped the total number of teacher and classified staff layoffs to 244.
SPS spokesperson Brian Coddington said the number of layoffs for certified teachers has been reduced to 32 as of Monday, and classified staff layoff notices have been reduced to 74.
As of May 3, the district had 4,110 employees.
Librarian positions eliminated
The budget also takes into account a changed library model for the district, where librarian positions would be eliminated and teachers would take over those tasks.
Coddington said most librarians in the district have been reassigned to teaching positions for the 2019-2020 school year, and only one or two of those staff members were low enough on the seniority list to receive layoff notices.
The budget also includes an early release schedule every Friday for all elementary schools within the district.
In 2016, SPS announced that students would be dismissed an hour and 15 minutes early on 12 Fridays throughout the school year.
District leaders said the early release days allow teachers time to work with their peers around student development. They said teachers would meet in pairs or groups to work on professional practices aimed at improving student learning.
When crafting the budget, the district took into account responses from 2,500 participants in an online survey, public input from several open houses at schools in the district and feedback during the regular open sessions of school board meetings.
“We’ve heard consistently that people are interested in looking away from the classroom first,” Codding said.
Part of this effort is focused on protecting K-3 class sizes as the state Legislature prioritized funding at this level.
“Things that the public would see on Wednesday night shouldn’t be anything significantly different than what we’ve been talking about for the past three months,” Coddington added.
Coddington said the district is also looking for ways to prioritize health, wellness and safety within schools – including funding for nurses, safety officers and psychologists.
The state carries about one-third of the allocated funding for this area. For example, the state funds 58 counselors out of the 143 within the district.
The district was able to add back four nurses that were not previously included in the 2019-2020 budget, Coddington said.
A copy of the full budget proposal is available below: