Pierce County legislators are warning school officials that, with a $4.5 billion state budget shortfall looming, everything is potentially on the chopping block in Olympia – even K-12 education.
School board members and administrators from Pierce County met with legislators Tuesday in Puyallup to talk about education issues that will be on the table when the Legislature convenes in January.
“We are going to have to look at K-12 education,” said Sen. Jim Kastama, a Democrat from Pierce County’s 25th Legislative District in Puyallup. “We can’t hold it harmless.”
Democrat Tami Green, who represents the 28th District, which covers suburban Pierce County cities including University Place, Du-Pont and Fircrest, said that for the past three years legislators have protected voters from massive cuts.
“But we can’t get to $4.5 billion without the middle class feeling this,” she added.
Kastama said “selective pruning” won’t help legislators reach the needed level of spending cuts, and he asked educators for ideas on what could go.
Not much, judging by their comments.
Puyallup School District Superintendent Tony Apostle said his district has already made many tough budget-driven decisions – cutting some bus transportation, eliminating all-day kindergarten and closing smaller schools.
In Puyallup and other Pierce County school districts, some employees agreed to have their pay frozen or wages deferred. In Sumner, the district instituted a new schedule at high schools so that it could get by with fewer teachers.
University Place Superintendent Patti Banks pleaded with legislators to leave the state’s levy equalization funding intact. That money – offered to many suburban and rural districts around the state – helps supplement the budgets of districts that lack high-value commercial real estate. Without it, those districts would have to charge residential taxpayers higher school levy rates than large property-rich districts such as Seattle do.
In UP, Banks said, elimination of levy equalization funding would cost about $1.8 million. In Puyallup, it’s worth about $4 million, Apostle said.
Banks pointed out that although the state recently raised the limit on how much school districts can generate through local levies, raising levy rates won’t fly with taxpayers.
If cuts do come to education, she said, legislators must ensure that they’re done in an equitable manner.