The budget cuts pushed through a special legislative session Saturday won't be felt immediately in local schools, but if they're carried over into next year's budget, district officials warn painful changes in classrooms are ahead.
In meetings lasting less than eight hours total, the state Legislature carved close to $500 million out of state agencies' operating budgets, by approving House Bill 3225.
More than half of the slashed expenses -- $260 million -- came out of public school budgets.
The biggest cut to the schools came from eliminating programs to reduce class sizes in grades K-4.
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The state pays districts a set amount per student. But younger students need more individual attention, which is why the state has given districts extra money for K-4 class size reduction for the past 20 years.
That money is gone as of February, for the rest of the school year. Richland lost $530,000, Kennewick $620,000 and Finley $100,000, their superintendents told the Herald.
Pasco's superintendent could not be reached Monday.
This doesn't mean much for this school year, as staff is on guaranteed contracts. The districts will have to dip into their savings accounts to make up the difference, officials say.
But that's not sustainable and if, as just about everyone expects, the K-4 subsidies are gone for good, painful cuts will have to be made next school year.
Richland's projected student enrollment growth would require hiring 12 or 13 new teachers next year. If the K-4 cut is permanent, none would be added and classes would grow larger, said Superintendent Jim Busey.
Kennewick expected about $1.5 million in K-4 money for next year. Not getting that money would mean reduced staff and larger class sizes there, said Superintendent Dave Bond.
Many smaller programs were hit too.
So-called STEM education -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- took several hits, among them extra money for districts whose STEM programs can be used as a model for other districts.
State school officials visited Delta High School -- the Tri-Cities' STEM school -- last week and told administrators there that they were strong candidates for that money, Bond said.
"We're clearly not getting that grant money now," he said.
Students' health care could be affected too.
Educational Service Districts -- regional agencies that provide services to the local districts -- employ school nurses, who fan out across their regions, splitting their time among many rural schools that can't afford their own nurses.
That program's already thin budget was reduced by a little more than 6 percent.
The Mid-Columbia's service district -- ESD 123 -- can make do for this year, said Health Administrator Les Stahlnecker. But, if the cuts persist into next year, staff will have to be reduced, which will probably mean fewer nurses in smaller schools.
There are many other small cuts, affecting anything from career advice programs to reading support.
What incenses local school administrators most, perhaps, is that federal money that was meant to flow directly to the districts to hire more teachers was instead absorbed by the state.
The feds had sent $208 million to the state, to be distributed to the districts. The state is doing that, but it's withholding an equal amount of state money from the districts, effectively pocketing the federal money, local school officials say. Kennewick, for example, stood to get more than $3 million from the federal government.
"It's very disappointing that the federal government allocated money for the districts and the state takes it to balance its budget," Bond said.