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Sunnyside schools bracing for $3.5 million in spending cuts

The Sunnyside School Board is going to be asked to formally approve a plan that will reduce the number of school district staff members by nearly three dozen.

The rub, it seems, is that local school administrators aren't exactly sure how much less the Sunnyside School District will be getting from the state in funding for the 2011-12 year. Legislators are currently grappling to find a way to reduce a more than $5 billion general fund deficit.

Coupled with the loss of federal stimulus monies that are no longer available, the best-guess estimate is that Sunnyside will have approximately $3.5 million less to work with this next school year than the district had in 2010-11.

The plan that's being pitched is to reduce 33 staff positions. Because of attrition, namely staff members who are retiring or new hires who were only given one-year contracts when they came on board last fall, the actual number of tenured employees expected to be without jobs come this September totals 17.

Those employees received notices last Friday that their employment was being terminated. Of the 17 handed "pink slips," two are administrators, three are certificated staff members and 12 are classified employees.

The best case scenario would have been to wait for lawmakers in Olympia to finalize the new state budget, so that school administrators would have had an exact dollar amount on how much money they'd be receiving this next year. Currently, there are three budget proposals on the table in the state capital. The House of Representatives' version calls for Sunnyside to receive approximately $365,000 less in funding than it did this past year. Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget draft reduces Sunnyside's take by about $655,000. The Senate's budget plan would result in Sunnyside getting roughly $815,000 less than it did this past year. State officials, on top of the three budget plans that call for less money coming Sunnyside's way, are also proposing another $1.5 million in revenue cuts to the local school district, ranging from $710,000 earmarked for the K-4 Enhancement program to $55,000 for the highly capable students.

Unfortunately, having to wait to see which of the three plans is adopted, unless of course all three are scrapped and a new model has to be crafted, Sunnyside is erring on the side of caution and is planning for the worst. Hence, the decision was made to issue RIF notices to 17 employees.

Had the district not issued the notices by last Friday, Sunnyside would have been bound contractually to bring all of the employees back for the 2011-12 school year.

Of the proposed staff cuts in Sunnyside, the positions most hard hit are the para-pros. The plan calls for 17.5 fewer para-educators in the classrooms in 2011-12. One less custodian and one fewer employee at the skills center are also among the classified staffing cuts.

From among the certificated staff, the plan is to eliminate 1.5 nursing positions, cut eight personnel from the K-4 enhancement program and a TOSA/Coach, as well as reducing one teacher working with highly capable students to half-time and cutting one counselor, who was only employed on a half-time basis.

The two administrators being let go, assuming the school board at its monthly meeting set for next week approves the spending cuts, are program directors.

The proposed spending cuts also include major reductions in summer school and after-school programs, shaving the security staff from eight to seven personnel, and doing away with plans that had earmarked $120,000 for the purchase of new curriculum (textbooks).

Also on the cutting block is the elimination of seven 'C' squad or underclassman athletic teams, expected to save the school district about $45,000.

Not all of the news is bad, however.

The number of teachers currently employed is expected to remain steady, enough so to keep class sizes the same. Also, none of the school district's music or art programs are expected to be disrupted.

Local administrators are also finding some solace with the spending cut plan in that from a staffing loss of 33 positions, nearly half of those will be ate up by voluntary retirements or contracts that have run their course.

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