Olympia schools move closer to cuts amid budget uncertainty

The Olympia School District is moving closer to making budget cuts for next year amid continuing uncertainty over what state lawmakers will do on school funding before the legislative session ends.

On Monday, the school board heard an option to cut $4.68 million from the 2019-20 budget. That would mean having about 17 fewer full-time classroom teachers than this year and 12 fewer full-time paraeducators, with cuts spread across the district. In some cases that would mean larger class sizes.

Since the fall, school officials have warned they could face a deficit next year as a result of funding changes made by the Legislature that placed restrictions on local levy dollars following the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling.

State budget proposals under consideration this session would let districts collect more levy dollars. Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Patrick Murphy said that is key.

“I would love to look for all sorts of other ways to meet our revenue problem, but if there is no levy lift in this budget that comes through, that is going to be a massive problem for a lot of districts, including the Olympia School District,” he said.

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Cuts offered Monday are not final. With the Legislature set to end its session Sunday, Murphy said by next week the district could be looking to restore the cuts or make more, depending on what lawmakers decide.

Some employees already have been given notice their positions could be in jeopardy, including the assistant principal at Centennial and Hansen elementary schools. At Monday’s meeting, parents from those schools urged the board to reconsider, saying the loss would have a “devastating effect.”

Elsewhere, the plan calls for eliminating custodian and grounds positions, cutting back on supplies and travel, and saving $150,000 in student transportation by combining bus routes, adjusting schedules and taking monitors off buses.

Looking at the proposed teacher cuts, board president Joellen Wilhelm asked about ways to keep class sizes down at schools with a high concentration of low-income students and to keep electives at smaller middle schools.

The school board is expected to vote on the district’s 2019-20 budget in June.

Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.