Kent schools: Fewer teachers to see layoffs

After months of bad news regarding the budget, there is finally a glimmer of hope in the Kent School District, as new budget projections will lead to less-than-expected layoff numbers.

According to Superintendent Barbara Grohe, as many as half of the 38 teachers who received layoff notices earlier this month may be recalled within the next few days.

“What I know for certain is we’ll be able to recall all of the elementary classroom teachers,” Grohe said, adding there were a total of six in that group.

Grohe said Thursday the district is continuing gather information on teachers with “specific and narrow” certifications in hopes of recalling as many as possible.

Not all teachers will be recalled, however, according to Grohe, because not every layoff was due to budgetary reasons. Grohe said those teachers who received notices because of enrollment reductions would not be recalled.

The news of the recalls came Wednesday’s board meeting, following a budget update from Financial Director John Knutson in which he announced that budget reductions and savings through the year has led to the district “living within our means” and should lead the district to end the year with a larger-than-expected ending fund balance.

According to Knutson, a $2.6 million budget cut enacted during the 2008-2009 school year, combined with lower-than-expected prices of diesel fuel, reduced heating costs (the coldest days of the year occurred while school was not in session), energy conservation and a drop in discretionary spending means that for the first time in three years the district is taking in more in revenues than it is spending.

According to Knutson’s numbers, the district is projected to take in $247.9 million and spend $246.7 million, leading to an increase in the projected ending fund balance (and next year’s starting fund balance) by $1.2 million.

Not all of the money in the ending fund balance is a available for budgeting purposes, however. Much of the money is designated for other purposes or is part of the district’s 5 percent reserve.

However, the increased savings - which is equal to approximately 0.5 percent of the district’s budget - combined with a better and ever-changing understanding of how to use federal stimulus money, means that cuts will not be as deep as suspected even last month at this time.

Knutson said while salaries remain the district’s largest expenditure, non-salary related costs have dropped considerably as purchases have been postponed or avoided altogether.

“People have really stepped up,” Knutson said.

According to Grohe, the district’s savings plan still includes the $3.4 million in central office and administration cuts approved by the board in March, but administration is steadily removing things from the list of program cuts.

Among the district programs that are no longer facing the axe are fifth-grade band and orchestra. And budget-related class-size increases at the elementary and high school levels are on the back burner.

“All of the pieces we’ve put back have been pieces that deal with people’s jobs,” Grohe said.

Kent Education Association representative Mike McNett called the recall notices “very good news.”

“Obviously, we’re pleased to hear that,” McNett said. “We’re always glad to know our members have greater job security and students will have access to these teachers.”

McNett also said the union was not necessarily surprised by the increased fund balance as representatives from the KEA and the Washington Education Association have been studying the district’s finances and predicted an ending fund increase of nearly the exact amount the district is now projecting.

Grohe said the administration hopes to notify recalled teachers by Monday.

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