The Bethel School Board has decided to slash 67 positions - including 45 teaching jobs - and increase class sizes as part of a $7.6 million budget cut.
Class sizes would increase by one student in the fourth to 12th grades next fall, while classes for kindergartners through third-graders would add two students. Positions for at least six administrators and six custodians would be part of the cuts.
The board directed Superintendent Tom Seigel on Thursday night to make cuts to offset a $7.6 mill- ion reduction in state funding.
“It’s bleak,” said School Board President John Manning after a nearly four-hour meeting at the district’s headquarters in Spanaway. “There’s no silver lining in this.”
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The five-member board did not vote but agreed during the public meeting on cuts of $7.1 million. It decided to cover the remainder of the reduction using $500,000 in expected reserves.
Bethel, the third-largest school district in Pierce County, provides education for about 17,600 students in the fast-growing Spanaway, Graham and Frederickson areas.
The county’s two largest school districts are grapp- ling with their own cuts, ranging from elementary school closures in Tacoma to the elimination of 28 full-time certificated staff positions in Puyallup. Smaller districts are also in the final stages of a painful budget-writing process for 2011-12.
Manning said Bethel’s schools have great teachers and he is hopeful the quality of education won’t suffer.
“I’m sure they’ll do their best to maintain it,” he said.
Board members said they were pushed to increase class sizes to the level that the state will actually fund.
“We’re forced to that position,” said board member Ronald Morehouse.
“It’s horrible,” said Joy Cook, another board member.
The larger classes will provide the biggest savings – $3.2 million – and the biggest reduction – 40 teaching positions.
Seigel said reduction-in-force notices will be going to at least 45 teachers by mid-May. However, he said he’s hopeful up to 30 teaching positions could be handled by attrition, such as retirements. There are about 1,030 full-time-equivalent teachers in Bethel schools.
The district will also save $510,360 by closing Clover Creek Elementary for a year starting in the fall and moving its students to Naches Trail Elementary while a new $19 million Clover Creek school is built.
The $7.6 million budget reduction amounts to a nearly 5 percent cut in the district’s $160 million general fund operating budget. The board must approve the cuts as part of a final budget expected to be adopted in August.
The board reviewed a long list of suggested cuts.
“The next two years look grim,” Seigel said.
Some areas – such as librarians and paraeducators for special education students – were spared from cuts after audience members spoke out.
The Pierce County Skills Center, which opened last fall in Frederickson, is not affected by the cuts, Seigel said. A partnership of 10 local school districts has its own budget and board of directors, he said, and he expects enrollment in the vocational-training classes to increase next fall.
Tom Cruver, president of the Bethel Education Association, said increases in class sizes – which result in the loss of teaching jobs – are subject to bargaining between the teachers union and the district.
“We’ll see how it shakes out,” Cruver said. “It’s a long ways till August.”