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Sunnyside schools brace for big-time state budget cuts

Eliminating pre-school classes and chopping 22 para-pro positions are among cuts the Sunnyside School District is considering for the 2009-10 school year.

The preliminary budget proposal is based on indications from the state legislature that Sunnyside schools may receive nearly 10 percent less in funds than they did for the current school year.

School districts across the state will likely feel the pinch as state lawmakers address a $9 billion shortfall.

In Sunnyside's case, pre-school age children and their parents could see the district's pre-school program eliminated all together at a savings of $221,392. The district would still provide pre-school to handicapped students, as mandated by state law.

After-school programs are also on the proposed chopping block, at a savings of $264,000.

Gone, too, would be field trips and cost of living allowances for staff next year.

The 22 para pro positions would be cut from the ELL Migrant/Bilingual/Title 1 programs. That represents nearly a sixth of the total number of para-pros in the district.

In presenting the figures, which total nearly $6 million in proposed cuts, Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said some staff cuts - 20 teachers and nine para-pros - would be retained because of other employees who are retiring or leaving the district.

Even so, that means there would be 20 fewer classroom teachers in the Sunnyside School District in 2009-2010.

The district is bound by union contract to not increase class size, so Cole said the district is still in the process of figuring out how to keep the class sizes the same. One idea, he said, is to bring in other staff, like reading coaches, to help out in the classroom.

The upshot of the budget-cutting proposal is that Sunnyside School District employees could be wearing some different hats next year.

That includes school district administrators, as 4.5 positions are proposed for elimination. Cole confirmed that the equivalent of one administrator position is a principal position that would be cut.

He says some administrators may find themselves working in subordinate roles in order to stay employed with the district.

Other personnel cuts are proposed for the equivalent of two or three special education positions.

Grizzly fans may also see some changes, as 10 percent of the athletic department's budget may be cut. Cole said the school is working on what impact that would have in possibly cutting sports programs and coaches.

Other proposed reductions include travel for the school board and superintendent's office, as well as most personal service contracts and maintenance.

Cole emphasized the cuts are in a very early draft form, and still must be submitted to the school board for consideration next Thursday.

He also said the picture could change. Cole noted that the governor's office, the state house and the state senate are far apart in some areas on their respective budget proposals.

There is some good news for the district, though, in that plans to move ahead with a new bus garage, improvements to the high school and other construction projects will move ahead on schedule.

The reason, said Cole, is that those funds are dedicated for just building projects and by law cannot be re-designated for other uses by either the district or state lawmakers.

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