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Bremerton schools expect to lose 16 teachers if proposed budget cuts pass

About 16 teaching positions for the next school year will be cut if Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget reductions are approved by lawmakers, Bremerton School District officials said last week.

In a report to the Bremerton School Board, Director of Finance and Operations Wayne Lindberg said the elimination of kindergarten through fourth grade enhancement money and I-728 teaching positions, along with expiring federal stimulus dollars, will wipe out money that pays for 16.1 teaching jobs.

With the state facing a $4.6 billion shortfall, which could grow another billion after a March 17 revenue forecast is released, local lawmakers say the Legislature may be forced to accept the governor's cuts, and then some.

It is too early to tell which teachers will be cut in the 2011-2012 school year, said Denise Zaske, personnel director for the district.

The district anticipates some of those lost positions could be offset by resignations and retirements, but officials said regardless if teachers are given a pink slip, the district will likely have to make do with fewer teachers and larger class sizes.

"Whether or not it would all be teaching positions, we don't know," district spokeswoman Patty Glaser said of the cuts, adding that the loss of money for 16 teaching positions does not mean all the layoffs have to be teachers, but could include other staff. "How we decide to take those cuts has yet to be seen."

Nonetheless, a growth in class sizes in the district is probably inevitable, she said.

"I would be surprised if we didn't increase by even a few students," Glaser said.

The Central Kitsap School District currently has no estimates on how many teacher layoffs it expects. However, it has already accepted about $500,000 in funding cuts for this school year and anticipates more than a $1 million less if Gregoire's budget is approved.

Despite the gloomy forecast, Bremerton Superintendent Lester "Flip" Herndon said his sense is Bremerton is in better financial shape than surrounding districts.

"We're still looking for efficiencies," Herndon said. "We've been fairly conservative and prudent in our savings."

So far, the district is expecting 10 teacher resignations and retirements at the end of this year, Zaske said. She said she hopes six more teachers will voluntarily leave between now and May 15 to reduce the need for layoffs. However, the district may issue "preventative" reduction in force notices by May to ensure it's cutting teachers in the grades it needs to, with the possibility of asking them to return.

Central Kitsap school officials expect between $1.5 million and $2.2 million in cuts from the Gregoire's budget, according to information provided by district spokesman David Beil. Last year, the district issued 13 layoff notices, but recalled each of the teachers, 12 of whom returned.

For Bremerton schools, the loss of the kindergarten through fourth grade enhancement money - $542,000 for the next school year - will account for 6.7 jobs. That allocation was also cut this school year by more than $452,000, but with a bump in enrollment that district officials expect will bring an additional $500,000 in state money, the district has a cushion until the next school year. Total cuts for the 2011-2012 school year in the governor's proposed budget amount to $936,273.

The Legislature does not have to follow the governor's recommended budget, but state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, said the state budget is even more vulnerable to cuts now than it was when Gregoire released her budget in December. A state revenue forecast scheduled to be released March 17 is expected to add anywhere between a half billion dollars to one billion dollars to the deficit, he said.

"I don't know that we have much choice here," Rockefeller said of the proposed education cuts. "We have an obligation to balance the budget and we do not have the prospect of new revenues."

Because Gregoire's proposed cuts target education money not protected by the state Constitution as basic education programs, there may not be much more the Legislature could cut, Rockefeller added.

"I'm not sure what else remains," he said.

State Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said that while final education reductions are far from being decided, the Legislature may end up following Gregoire's budget, though reluctantly.

"I'm not advocating for those cuts by any means," Kilmer said. "That's not a lever I'm particularly enthusiastic about pulling."

Growth in class sizes, as predicted in Bremerton, is particularly harmful to the quality of education, especially in kindergarten through fourth grade, he added.

"Student learning is driven by quality time with quality teachers," he said. "Class size in those grades really matters. My hope is that the Legislature won't go there."

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