Proposal to bring $3.2M out of reserves will be introduced

The Richland School District will have to spend almost half of its savings to keep students unharmed from lost federal stimulus and lower state budget dollars this school year.

The district tonight will present a $102 million budget proposal for the 2011-12 school year in a public hearing during the school board meeting. The board will vote on the proposed budget following the hearing.

Tonight's board meeting starts earlier than usual -- 4:30 p.m. at the district office, 615 Snow Ave.

The budget figures reflect a perfect deficit storm -- less money coming from the state and federal governments, more retirement and health care contributions leaving district coffers and nearly flat student enrollment projections.

The result is that the district is taking in about $3.2 million less than it needs to spend this school year.

Rather than lay off dozens of teachers and cut important programs, the proposal has that money coming out of district reserves.

This will leave the district with unrestricted reserves -- money with no strings attached -- of about $3.8 million, or 3.7 percent of its budget.

"It's a little less than I'm comfortable with," said Rich Puryear, director of financial services. And it's less than the 5 percent reserves the school board has mandated.

But in exchange, students will barely notice any effects of the cuts. The proposal will maintain all services and programs in Richland schools, Puryear said.

One consequence could be that extracurricular offerings that attract little student demand are staffed at lower levels or perhaps cut, if interest is low enough.

For example, if only 10 or 15 students sign up for a sports team at a school, that team may only get a single coach next year, Puryear said.

And class sizes will increase a little -- by about one or two students on average district-wide. That's because there will be fewer teachers for a slightly larger student body than last year.

No teachers were laid off, but the equivalent of 15 full-time teachers who retired or moved away weren't replaced, Puryear said.

The district expects 10,700 students this year, about 150 more than last year.

If more than that show up, more teaches may be hired after the school year begins, Puryear said.

The district does not expect layoffs at Hanford to push down student numbers. "When the stimulus came we didn't see a big bump in enrollment," Puryear said.

If the state again cuts money halfway through the school year, as it did last winter, Richland may be in financial trouble for the following year.

The midyear cuts wouldn't have a great effect until the next summer because teachers are on at least a one-year contract. But then programs would likely have to be slashed to make up for lost income.

"Students wouldn't find everything there as they did the year before," Puryear said.