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Sunnyside schools tighten spending

The Sunnyside School District will soon feel the impact of a statewide budget deficit.

At the regularly scheduled board meeting last night, Thursday, school board officials were given a memo issued by Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson alerting them to the fact that late last month Washington state's economic forecaster projects a dismal revenue outlook.

According to Bergeson, Gregoire began taking action this past summer in anticipation of a slowing national economy and that included ordering a 5 percent reduction in fuel consumption by state agency fleets in light of skyrocketing gas prices. She also imposed freezes on hiring, out of state travel, personal service contracts and equipment purchases, all in an effort to save $330 million in the 2007-09 biennium.

Bergeson said in her memo that this required her office to plan for $300,000 in cuts to agency operations in general, and another $2.4 million in contracts, travel, equipment and hiring. She said that in early November, she presented a plan to the governor to absorb $2.7 million in cuts without reducing contracts and grants that have already been allocated to school districts.

The updated forecast projects a $5.8 billion deficit in this biennium and the next.

"Importantly, the financial crisis hit much earlier than projected; state revenues are dropping dramatically now," she stated in the memo.

Bergeson said Gregoire is now ordering additional spending reductions of $260 million to ensure that by June 30, 2009 the budget will be in the black.

The OSPI portion of the reduction is $4.7 million and may indirectly impact school districts, like Sunnyside, through state contracts and grants that could be reduced mid-year.

Bergeson stressed in the memo that the new round of budget reductions includes reductions in levy equalization funds.

"The governor's office is directing me to implement an 8 percent reduction to (levy equalization which amounts to 3.4 percent)," Bergeson said, adding that the cut will apply to the 2009-10 school year, but will impact 2009 collections as well.

She also noted that a mid-cycle levy equalization cut is unprecedented.

When Sunnyside School District staff got word, they immediately went to work, creating a plan to handle a 3 percent levy equalization cut. Here, that amounts to $155,000.

Perhaps what's most surprising is that school board officials last night moved to save money by decreasing national travel trips.

Three administrators had planned to attend a national conference at a cost of $7,245. Now they will not. Superintendent Rick Cole was to travel to a conference in San Francisco at a cost of $3,060. That plan is scrapped. School board officials and Cole had made arrangements to attend a national school board conference and now they will not, saving $12,636.

"I think we need to set an example," said School Board Director Steve Carpenter. "If travel's going to get cut, then (the national conference for directors) is a good place to start."

Sunnyside High School football coaches have had their hearts set on a national Nike conference in Denver and they will get to keep their trip. Cole noted that much of the money for the trip is coming out of the coaches' pockets. The school district will pay about $3,000 for the eight coaches to go.

Cole noted that school board officials had already approved the trip for the football coaches. "I feel we should follow through with that and make that available to them."

Also included in the cuts is a freeze on hiring employees for new positions after Jan. 1, 2009. Current openings will be filled but a substance abuse prevention and intervention specialist position will not.

In terms of travel, no new trips will be granted. For those already planned, only a maximum of two people can attend. There will be a decrease in professional development travel and substitutes.

The purchase of middle school fitness equipment is on hold, as is a planned elementary fitness trail. Other equipment is on hold to, but unspecified in the plan.

Also included in the local budget cuts is a freeze on field trips after the first of the year.

No new personal service contracts will be signed.

The board unanimously approved the criteria for cuts.

When it came to voicing his support for the cuts, Carpenter said that in "today's economic landscape" the cuts make sense.

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