With the governor and the state Legislature grappling with historic budget deficits, public agencies across the state are left watching the drama unfold in the capitol like spectators whose fate depends on the outcome of a colossal contest.
Schools are one of those spectators whose future well -being hangs in the balance as the public leaders in Olympia try to find their way clear of the financial morass that has left legislators choosing the best from among a horde of bad options.
The governor's proposal to balance the $1.1 billion deficit in this year's budget sent shock waves across the public sector. Locally, the governor's proposal would cost the Ocean Beach School District an estimated $360,000 in revenue for this school year. The legislature is now starting to weigh in and House Democrats have offered their first alternative budget. While slightly better for our schools than the governor's proposal, it still takes a mighty whack out of our operating funds.
It will be weeks before we know the final outcome of the debate, but in the meantime schools are prepping for the loss of funds and programs.
Many of the budget proposals have called for retroactive cuts back to the start of the school year, even though funds have already been dedicated and spent for the programs targeted for cuts.
At Ocean Beach School District, we have issued six reduction in force (RIF) notices to employees in the programs the state has put on the chopping block. These layoffs are scheduled for Feb. 1 unless things change with the legislature. We are hoping that the outcome of the struggle in Olympia is the restoration of these programs and the reinstatement of the highly valued employees who recently received their pink slips, but given the scope of the deficits, things certainly look bleak.
The first area to be hit was our Highly Capable program that offers services to our most gifted students, helping to challenge them in ways that are not possible in the regular classroom. Our Hi-C program has focused on field science and problem solving with local natural resource experts and has been a huge success; it is sad to see a quality program like this one disappear.
The other cuts are directed at our Readiness to Learn program. This program serves children and families in our district who face significant challenges. Students receive specialized instruction to help them get up to par with their peers, and parents receive instruction on a variety of topics including how to assist their child with their school work at home. The program employs incredible educators who are making a difference in the academic performance of our kids and in the lives of many families. It is painful to see a program like this one, and the jobs of the people who work in it, be eliminated.
In the midst of so much fiscal chaos, it is imperative that local voters step forward and renew our local school levies. The ballots for the proposed levies were sent out this past week and now it is up to the voters to approve them by the Feb. 8 election day .
The levies represent 25 percent of our total revenue and it is hard to see how we continue functioning without these funds. In addition, the local levy proposals represent a reduction in the current tax rate for schools. The critical need for these local funds, the fact that school taxes are going down, and that local patrons pay a far lower tax rate than other school districts in Pacific County - are all good reasons to vote yes for your local school levies.