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Why SPS didn't pass a budget this week, and why they want an extra $3.6M

The Spokane Public Schools board was expected to pass a budget that included teacher and staff layoffs this week, but it didn't. Here's why.

SPOKANE, Wash. — On Wednesday night, Spokane Public Schools staff presented a final budget proposal to the school board.

After extensive deliberation, the board voted to postpone the vote, unsatisfied with the option on the table.

The proposal included cuts to nearly every department, although layoff numbers were substantially down from April – in the dozens rather than the hundreds for both teachers and classified staff.

The main hangup for the board on Wednesday was the proposal to have early release every Friday for elementary schools. Several board members expressed deep concerns about the loss of instruction time.

In addition, members had problems with cuts to special education, severe cuts to custodial services and a large number of combined-grade classes.

To deal with all that, they proposed and passed an amendment indicating they now want to look at tapping into the district's reserve funds.

Board policy states the rainy day fund cannot be depleted past the point that the total amount in that fund becomes less than 5 percent of the total amount in the general fund.

That means the most that could currently be siphoned from reserves to general to deal with the above concerns is about $3.6 million, which would leave a bit more than $20 million in reserves.

But after passing that amendment, the board decided they wanted more time to review specifics before passing a full budget, so they postponed the vote.

Now, they'll have a work session on July 31 where they will discuss how they can use that $3.6 million to tackle the problems they brought up on Wednesday.

They are expected to vote on Aug. 14. 

RELATED: Vote on proposed SPS budget impacting layoffs postponed

The legal deadline to pass a budget is Aug. 30. 

There's another complication the district faces as a result of this delay. In order to avoid early releases, staffing will need to be changed.

That's because when students get released early, teachers stay and use that time for prep work, often cooperating with other teachers. 

Without the early releases, teachers need to find other prep time during the day. That usually means when their students are in specialized classes like art or music.

In order to create that prep time, the district of course needs specialized teachers for the specialized classes. To accommodate a district-wide shift, many specialized teachers would likely have to be re-hired, or if not enough specialists can be found from the remaining pool of laid-off teachers, entirely new candidates would have to be brought in. 

Furthermore, there would likely be significant shuffling of teachers around schools. When layoffs were announced, they were done purely by seniority, leaving some schools with more or less teachers than others. The schools then had to come up with a plan to move some teachers around in order to make sure every school was properly staffed. 

Bringing back specialists could mess with those numbers, meaning teachers may have to be moved back to their original schools or to entirely new ones again to ensure proper staffing. 

RELATED: Spokane Public Schools eliminates librarian positions

All of that would need to happen by the start of the school year on Aug. 29.

That's obviously a lot of moving parts. But how does all of it affect layoffs?

The current number rests at 32 teachers and 74 classified staffers. With the amended potential budget, that number will almost certainly either stay the same or even go decrease. The latter event would of course be likely to happen if specialists get re-hired.

Finally, it is still entirely possible the board does not decide to pull the $3.6 million from reserves and that the best move is to simply pass the budget as initially proposed, or they could attempt to make completely different changes.

We won't know for sure until they vote.

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