Tri-City school and college officials bristled at potential cuts to their budgets that Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested Thursday.
The governor unveiled a list of reductions for legislators to consider during the upcoming special session, which begins Nov. 28. Lawmakers are trying to close a projected $2 billion budget gap.
The cost-cutting options included some extreme suggestions that are unlikely to even be discussed, such as cutting school bus service statewide.
But the governor highlighted a number of options she wanted legislators to look at closely. Some of them may find their way into the supplemental budget:
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-- Reduce levy equalization -- which raises the levy income of districts with low property values -- by 50 percent.
-- Increase class size by two students in grades 4 through 12.
-- Reduce money for colleges and universities by 15 percent.
The first of these would be the biggest hit to Tri-City school districts. And it would be "hugely unfair," said Richland Superintendent Jim Busey.
Richland gets about $4 million in levy equalization a year. Kennewick gets about $10 million. Pasco gets about $12 million.
Losing half of that money, which is what Gregoire proposed Thursday, would directly affect students.
About half of the levy equalization money directly goes to classroom activities, said Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill. The other half pays for utilities, fuel and other fixed costs that cannot be cut.
That means any levy equalization cuts would affect teaching and learning, Hill said. That could mean slimming down music programs or libraries, for example, she said.
It also could mean trimming extracurricular activities, tutoring programs or summer school, said Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond.
"It would impact districts with poor kids exponentially," Hill said.
The proposal to increase class size really is another way of saying districts get less money. The state cannot control how many kids sit in classrooms.
It can control only how much money it sends to districts per student. If it shrinks that amount, districts have less money to pay teachers and need to increase class sizes to make do with fewer teachers.
But contracts between districts and teachers mandate how many kids can be in a classroom.
"This forces us to look at those (contracts)," Busey said.
That easily could end with districts covering at least some of the state cuts out of their shrinking savings accounts.
And for small districts, it would be impossible to cut staff because it doesn't have enough classes per grade to just eliminate one and spread the kids around, said Lou Gates, superintendent of the Columbia School District in Burbank.
It would be stuck with having to make up the class-size increase -- i.e. the cut of money per student -- out of its reserves. The small district already would lose $125,000 from the proposed levy equalization cut, Gates said.
Gregoire's proposal included many other suggestions for cutting K-12 budgets, including changing the way student enrollment is reported. One proposal would base per-student money on average daily attendance, increasing administrative costs for districts, with no benefit to the classroom, Hill said.
All in all, the options highlighted in the governor's list as preferable would add up to about $7 million in cuts for Kennewick, said business manager Vic Roberts.
Even if Kennewick asked for the highest possible property tax levy in February -- which it does not plan to do -- it wouldn't cover that drastic a cut, Roberts said.
The proposal painted an equally dire picture for higher education.
The proposed 15 percent cut to all colleges in the state would translate to about $3 million less for Columbia Basin College, said President Rich Cummins.
A budget reduction committee already has been meeting in anticipation of the cuts, he said.
It will present several scenarios of cuts at the college to the board of trustees, who can then choose an option after a final supplementary budget comes out, Cummins said.
He couldn't say what those cuts might be. But as it has in past rounds of reductions, the college will eliminate entire programs rather than take a little bit out of each sector, Cummins said.
"But how do we remain a comprehensive community college with these kind of cuts?" he asked.
-- Jacques Von Lunen: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org