Editor's Note: This story will continue to be updated with details from the final approved budget.
Spokane Public Schools has passed a budget for the 2019-2020 school year on August 14, 2019.
In April, the district announced 183 teachers and 142 staffers would be laid off, the result of dramatic changes in the funding model. Now, after months of debate and discussion, the board is poised to pass a final budget with far smaller numbers.
Three weeks ago was actually the first time the board was set to vote on such a budget, but they instead voted to postpone, citing concerns about combined-grade classrooms, outsize cuts to custodial services, and a plan to have early release every Friday for elementary schools.
The board has held two work sessions, and according to a district spokesman, have worked with staff to develop potential solutions for those concerns.
Elementary early release
Currently, elementary schools let out early on twelve Fridays throughout the school year.
In the initial presentation two weeks ago, district staff included a proposal to instate early release every Friday for those students. Arguments for doing so included providing more consistency to families, more prep time for teachers, and saving about a million dollars.
But the board wasn't convinced, several members expressing displeasure at the meeting with the idea of cutting back instruction time.
However, reinstating full Fridays would require an incredibly complicated shuffling process that would affect hundreds of teachers, according to district staff. It would be a logistical feat likely to cause widespread frustration, and one they would have to pull off with only a handful of days to go before school actually starts.
Because of those challenges, the board is not likely to reinstate full elementary school days this year.
They are, however, looking to expand after school programs on Fridays. The current proposal includes a little over $200,000 for things like snacks, supplies, and extra staff time. Much of that money is actually for the snacks, and the district could potentially get reimbursed by the federal government for it.
The board also wants to reduce the number of classrooms where multiple grade levels are taught at one time.
To do that, they are looking to recall eleven laid-off classroom teachers. That should allow the district to reduce the number of combo classes from roughly 60 to more like 30.
In addition, the board may set aside money to recall another six teachers that could be used to relieve general class size pressure. After the year begins, if there are any classes overflowing, those teachers could be recalled to take on that role.
Recalls would be issued to laid off teachers in order of seniority.
Initially, 183 teachers were sent layoff notices. Over the course of the summer, that number was repeatedly reduced, thanks largely to teachers retiring or otherwise leaving the district on their own volition. At the presentation two weeks ago, the updated layoff number was down to 32. With these new recalls, that number could become as small as 15.
Even with many departments across the district facing severe cuts this year, few were hit as hard as custodial services.
However, the board is now looking at ways to reduce that severity.
The newest proposal includes seven fewer custodial layoffs than initially forecast.
The board may also look to rehire more custodians in future years.
The source of funding for all of these latest proposals is the reserve account.
Approximately $2.9 million would be pulled from that fund in order to support the mitigation.
That's actually less than the board initially proposed when they first postponed their budget vote; at that time they were looking at draining the fund down to its minimum balance, taking out $4.5 million.
The current local levy rate is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
That rate was determined after the state legislature capped local levies as part of their response to the McCleary decision.
But, after outcry from multiple district across the state, this year the legislature lifted that cap to a $2.50 rate.
The most recent levy rate approved by Spokane voters, prior to the cap being instated, was $1.71. That means the board can elect to restore the levy to that rate without needing another ballot measure.
The current budget proposal assumes they will, in fact, do that.
That decision would occur in the fall, and the rate would go into effect in the 2020 calendar year, with the current rate staying in place until the end of 2019.
After the board elected to postpone voting on a final budget two weeks ago, they established a new voting date of August 14th.
So, next Wednesday at the board meeting is when they're now set to pass that budget.
The school year begins on August 29th.