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CK schools warn of budget shortfalls
"Washington schools celebrated dual victories in November, when voters passed two initiatives supporting schools and teachers. However, in recent weeks the celebratory mood has changed to one of frustration as the state Legislature has cut school funding proposals, local educators said during a press conference at South Kitsap High School Thursday, May 3.With the passage of school initiatives I-728 and I-732 we took two steps forward, now with the Legislature we're taking one step back, said Dan Whitford, director of South Kitsap secondary education.Kitsap County educators are demanding the Legislature fund the measures, instead of shifting responsibility to local school districts. But current plans could mean Kitsap County schools would receive less money from the state than projected.School officials have complained that current proposed budgets are robbing Peter (with cuts in traffic safety money, block grants, safety grants and other programs) to pay Paul (I-728 requires the state to allocate funds for class size reductions, teacher training and other purposes, while I-732 mandates teacher pay raises).The budgets being proposed by the Legislature are inconsistent with their paramount responsibility of providing quality education, said Gene Medina, superintendent of the North Kitsap School District.The power crisis likely will create another problem for schools in 2001-2002. Proposed state budgets would send $191,000 to the Central Kitsap School District for non-employee related cost increases, such as utilities. However, the district projects its utility bills alone will increase by $510,000 - leaving it with a $319,000 shortfall.I'm going to have a hard time balancing the budget, said Gary Powell, CKSD's assistant superintendent for business and operations. Let's hope we don't get there.He added that the district has enough reserves to cover the first year, but after that it would face funding cuts.When CKSD customized its I-728 plan, it banked on an allotment of $2.4 million. It now appears the county's largest school district will receive slightly more than $1 million, if the House budget sticks, or $1.46 million, if the Senate budget passes. In either case, it's a far cry from the amount the district needs to reach its learning improvement goals of reduced class sizes, extended learning programs, teacher training and early childhood education programs. Although the purpose of I-728 was to increase funding to schools and advance student achievement, all three versions of the state budget reduce existing public school funding.I-728 aimed to provide new funds to target six educational areas, including reducing class sizes in grades K-4; reducing class size in grades 5-12; extended learning programs; teacher training; early childhood education programs; and improvements or additions to school buildings for facilities directly related to the initiative.School officials also have concerns surrounding I-732, which attempted to ensures teachers receive annual cost of living adjustments (COLA). For 2001, that increase is 3.7 percent. Some worry the Legislature has interpreted the cost of living increase to apply only to state employees. Most teachers are considered state employees, but staff positions funded by federal money or levies aren't. Many districts will feel obligated to give the increases to all employees to be equitable, but will have to foot the bill to do so. Both the House and Senate budget proposals would leave the CK School District with a $450,00 bill for these pay increases.In addition, teachers complain that even if they get the COLA raise mandated by the I-732, rising out-of-pocket health insurance costs will diminish their earnings. Insurance costs are predicted to go up 25 to 30 percent and teachers might have to shoulder 15 percent of that total, according to Sara Rosin, president of the Central Kitsap Education Association. "