School districts present reduced spending plans

Camas and Washougal superintendents discuss the minefield of budget cuts

Budget reductions at a glance

These are a sampling of some of the cuts the Camas and Washougal School Districts have made to the 2011-12 budget. In Camas, all reductions, including those below, are $205,000. In Washougal, all reductions, including those below, are estimated at $596,225.

Camas:

• Half-time reduction in a campus security position: $25,000

• Half-time secretarial position in special programs: $20,000

• One printing position (eliminated due to the district using an in-house copy center instead): $65,000

• Reduction of principal directed substitute days by 50 percent: $46,000

• Three percent reduction in building budgets: $16,300

Washougal:

• Leave assistant superintendent position empty, change to a curriculum director: $32,248

• Reduce certified staff by 1.85 full time equivalency (four staff members), reduce provisional staff by 4.25 full time equivalency (six staff members) and adjust staff to meet class sizes: $501,000

• Restructure classified positions in special services and transportation offices: $62,977

Although some parts of the country seem to be pulling out of the recession, Washington is still being hit hard, and K-12 education is one area that has taken the brunt of it.

This marks the fourth year that the Camas and Washougal School Districts have had to slash their budgets due to reductions in state funding.

Camas approved its $51.7 million budget a few weeks ago, which is about $800,000 more than in 2010-11. Washougal is expected to approve an approximately $27 million budget at its Aug. 23 meeting, which is slightly less than in 2010-11.

According to administrators from both districts, there was one main focus while creating the budgets: keep teaching and learning intact.

“Our community has made it clear that in times of budget reduction, the last place that should be impacted is teaching and learning in the classroom,” Camas School District Superintendent Mike Nerland said. “That belief matches our district mission and board goals.”

Dawn Tarzian, the new Washougal superintendent, echoed similar sentiments.

“We tried very hard to keep cuts away from the classroom,” she said. “So we had to make those cuts elsewhere.”

This meant not filling the assistant superintendent position left by the resignation of Rebecca Miner, who took a job as superintendent in another district.

Instead, the district changed the title to curriculum director, for a savings of more than $32,000.

“It’s a very important position in the district and to not have that changed the complexities of the superintendent’s job,” Tarzian said. “Unless the financial forecast suggests increased funding, we won’t be able to hire someone in 2012-13 either.”

In Camas, this meant taking $107,000 out of the $4 million reserve fund to help alleviate cuts from the state. This past year, the district also left its assistant superintendent’s position unfilled.

“Over the years, the Camas School District has been fiscally conservative, so we have been able to cover some of the state reductions by utilizing our reserve,” Superintendent Mike Nerland said. “Also, our community values education and has been very supportive of our local maintenance and operations levy, which makes up 21 percent of our overall budget.”

The Washougal School District will also be using between $200,000 to $400,000 from its $3.86 million reserve fund to help cover reductions.

“We are tapping into these reserves in an effort to balance the budget, which is not a sustainable way to operate,” Tarzian said. “But we have cut so deeply we didn’t have a lot of places to go.”

Both districts are also facing a state mandated 3 percent pay cut to administrators, and a 1.9 percent reduction to certified and classified staff.

Tarzian said that despite the district’s best efforts, budget reductions will be felt with larger class sizes.

“This creates anxiety,” she said. “It’s hard to prepare for the coming school year and being financially frugal, and worrying about whether you have enough staff in place.”

Nerland agrees.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that cuts in funding from the state on a yearly basis may hamper our educational goals and threaten some of our best possible learning opportunities,” he said.

Both superintendents describe the financial climate as “challenging” but added that their respective districts are committed to providing a quality education to students.

“Our staff and students continue to do remarkable things that make Camas special,” Nerland said. “They continue to work with fewer resources, yet student achievement is at an all time high.”

“Our staff works hard every single day to give students a quality education,” Tarzian said. “And it’s been especially challenging since we are situated in a community where the recession has hit us hard.”

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