Franklin spared from closure

// Tacoma School Board opts to save one school, cease two others

With a round of sweeping majority votes, the Tacoma School Board of Directors opted to likely spare Franklin Elementary School from the budgetary chopping block. Wainwright and McKinley Elementary Schools will remain slated for possible closure, as part of a proposed $13 million budget cutting package for the 2011-12 school year.

The votes were aimed to provide guidance to the superintendent and are still up for debate. The school board will not likely approve the final budget cuts until this summer. It has until Aug. 31, the state’s deadline, to pass a budget.

“These votes are not set in stone,” Board President Kurt Miller said. “We are helping to set direction for the superintendent and staff.”

To officially close a school, the district must conduct two public hearings at least 90 days before closure of the school. The dates for these hearings are still being determined.

While all three elementary schools have enrollments of less than 300, Franklin has the newest building, which is the main reason it was removed from the closure list. However, saving the school from closure has left the district with a gaping question – finding another way to save the nearly $500,000 the closure would have provided to close the budget gap.

During the meeting, board members voted on the proposed budget reductions category by category – administrative cuts and operational efficiencies, unsheltered positions and programs, class size reductions, school closures – rather than as a package.

The latest series of approved cuts includes:

  • Cutting more than nine administrative and operational positions – including executive secretary, two custodians and a painter – to save $2 million.
  • Pursuing an increase to the elementary school class size ratio by one student per class to save $2 million.
  • Cutting more than 50 “unsheltered” positions and programs funded by federal stimulus or one-time funding sources to save $8 million.
  • Dipping into $10 million from the district’s savings to offset deeper cuts.

This latest round of budget reductions in Tacoma comes at the heels of proposed sweeping state cuts to education. This month, a recommended budget from the state House of Representatives would slash nearly $6.2 million from Tacoma schools. The Senate’s version would paint a bleaker picture by cutting $9.4 million.

“It is getting worse,” Superintendent Dr. Art Jarvis said.

He noted that either budget proposal at the state level would cut many programs aimed toward helping high poverty districts. This move would especially hurt Tacoma, which has a more than 60 percent poverty rate.

“It’s unconscionable,” Jarvis said. “It just adds to our woes as a district.”

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