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Inland Journal, May 9, 2019: Mead School Board Members Talk About Budget Cuts

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Today on the Inland Journal podcast, hard decisions made in Spokane’s Mead School District.

On Tuesday night, the Mead school board cut $11.3 million from the district’s budget. It’s a big hit for a district that serves a fairly affluent part of town. But it wasn’t quite as severe as the $12 million district officials thought they’d have to cut.

Mead is one of many eastern Washington school districts feeling the squeeze as the state’s new basic education funding formula continues to be implemented. The burden of funding so-called “basic education” is shifting from a combination of state and local funds to the state exclusively. As part of that, the legislature put a cap on how much money districts could seek from local taxpayers for special programs. That means fewer dollars available for programs not considered as basic education, the “sweeteners” that many parents and students have come to appreciate.

At Mead, those “sweeteners” include the Riverpoint Academy, referred to by supporters as RA. It’s the district’s major science and technology program. And MEAD, the acronym for the district’s alternative high school. They also include special education para-educators, English Language Learning, or ELL, programs, school nurses, counselors and a variety of other programs.

When administrators announced the district’s projected deficit, they developed a long list, $15 million worth, of possible cuts from which the board could pick and choose. All of the above were represented in some form. RA and MEAD were slated for at least temporary closure. Last month, the board held a public meeting to explain the possibilities to parents and then two more meetings to let parents and students advocate for their favorite programs.

“Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to provide input about the plan. These are difficult decisions and your openness to consider community input is admirable and very much appreciated. I’m Kim Purdue and the English language development specialist at Mountainside Middle School. I’m here to represent Mead’s English learner community, consisting of more than 400 learners and their families. They have survived a lot, but I’m sure how they’ll survive these cuts.”

“I find irony in the idea or notion that RA is being considered for closure as it pertains to a business. RA has embraced the entrepreneurial spirit since inception and it continues to be a crown jewel within the portfolio of schools within the Mead School District. A business owner would not create a business that is thriving beyond what they are capable of producing with the idea that they would close it, only to start it up again a short time later. It’s financially expensive. It’s disruptive in this case to the students who are currently a part of Riverpoint Academy and it’s virtually impossible to recreate what has already been created.”

“Members of the board, thank you for hearing my comments. I parent my nephew, who is slated to attend MEAD this fall. I recently learned that the alternative school will not be closed, but will be moved to Mead High School, that that’s the plan. MEAD’s off-campus location is in consideration of student safety. The higher student-teacher ratio is a way of keeping tabs on a student group more prone to violence and self harm. For these reasons, we turn to the alternative school for help with my nephew, who fell through the cracks in a larger high school setting. We fear what will happen if he’s forced to return to the high school, even under the guise of an alternative program.”

The board waited until the legislature adjourned and administrators could digest how the final budget would trickle down to the north Spokane district. Assistant Superintendent Wayne Leonard lamented that, of the several essential items sought by the district, few were acted upon by the legislature and there was little relief to stave off the looming budget cuts.

So, Tuesday night’s board meeting came. One by one, the board dispensed with other items until finally, board president Carmen Green announced a bit sarcastically that the item everyone was waiting for was finally up for discussion. But there was no discussion, in this public forum anyway, and the vote to institute the budget cuts came quickly.

Immediately, Green began reading a statement, saying how difficult the process and decision had been for the board members. Her voice cracked and she handed the paper to fellow board member Chad Burchard. He said the board would form a community task force to help it move forward. Counselors will be made available to help students and staff in the two programs that will be eliminated.

After the board meeting, Green, Burchard and outgoing Superintendent Tom Rockefeller agreed to take a few questions from me and Spokesman-Review education reporter Jim Allen. (click listen to hear the questions and answers)


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