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School board passes budget but tells admin to consider furlough days to replace some staff cuts

OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Diego Hernandez, a member of the Reynolds School BoardFacing a $2.7 million budget shortfall for next year, the Reynolds School Board on Wednesday narrowly approved a controversial budget for next school year.

But this budget has strings attached.

Board members Diego Hernandez, Yesenia Delgado and Ricki Ruiz voted against the budget, while the other four board members prevailed.

"This budget is making the best of what we have to work with," said board member Dane Nickerson.

The budget proposal put forth by the district administration included cutting 24 teaching positions. But those proposed cuts prompted protests from teachers, parents and students at multiple school board and budget meetings. Educators implored the committee to save teaching positions to keep class sizes from ballooning.

Teachers proposed taking furlough days, essentially a pay cut for them, to restore some teaching positions. They also advocated some other cost-saving measures to retain teachers and prevent class sizes from growing any larger.

After the budget narrowly passed, Hernandez proposed another resolution directing the administration to discuss furlough day options with the teachers as a way to save staff positions. This resolution passed 6 to 1.

"I can't believe we have to work so hard to take a pay cut," one teacher quipped on the way out of Wednesday's meeting. The teachers have turned out in force at School Board and budget committee meetings to register their dismay about the proposed 24 staff cuts.

Several parents testified at the Wednesday School Board meeting, urging the board not to support cutting teaching positions.

"We don't agree with the teacher cuts because the classrooms will be a much bigger size," said parent Antonio Yanez, speaking in Spanish, which was translated.

Reynolds budget woes can be traced to rising labor costs, especially the district's contribution to state pension costs, plus declining enrollment, which reduces the amount the district gets from the state.

State allocations are not keeping pace with district costs. Enrollment in the Reynolds district has declined about 950 students from the 2014-15 school year to the current 9,823 students.

The budget proposed by Superintendent Linda Florence called for cutting 10 elementary positions, 10 middle school positions and four high school educators. One administrator will become a grant-funded position. With retirements and teachers leaving for other reasons, staff lay-offs would have been unlikely.

This will be the third consecutive year the Reynolds district has cut days, programs or positions. Last year Reynolds shortened the school year by five days, among other cuts.

The $125 million bond passed by Reynolds district voters in 2015 cannot be used for teacher or staff salaries or other school operating expenses like books, but can only be used for building and plant improvements.

Many school districts continue to face tough budgets. Nearby Centennial School District has a $1.2 million shortfall and proposed cutting as many as four school days, among other adjustments.

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