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February 19, 2016

Budget Update - K-3 Class Size Reduction & Classroom Space Grant

Class Size Reductions

As I mentioned two weeks ago, one of the positive funding enhancements that the legislature has enacted recently is provide additional funding for reducing class sizes in grades K-3.  If a district meets certain class size numbers, the state provides additional funding to pay for a teacher.  Those class size targets vary, based on a school’s poverty level, as measured by the percentage of Free and Reduced Lunch students.

As you are aware, reducing class size requires more than an additional teacher; it requires a room to teach in as well.  And, if a district doesn’t have space already available, the only choice for the district is to acquire additional space by building new schools or buying portables.  If a district can’t do either, then it is unable to acquire the funding.  To complicate matters, districts have to pass bonds to be able to build schools, and they must achieve a 60% supermajority to attain voter approval

State K-3 Classroom Space Grant

The state appropriated $200 million last year to provide grants for districts to buy portables or build additional space.  So far, the state has spent a number of months studying where the needs are and should be ready to start awarding the funds to districts later this spring.  The Kennewick School District has applied for those funds, and we are hopeful that we will be awarded some portion of the $200 million grant.
Initiative 1351

A further complication in the class size issue is Initiative 1351.  Passed by the voters in November of 2014 by a 50.96% majority, the Initiative would have reduced class sizes in all grades, K-12.  Some estimates had the implementation of the Initiative costing over $4 billion.  The legislature realized that it didn’t have that kind of money available and was not willing to raise taxes at the level necessary to generate that kind of revenue. In addition, there was a lot of concern about whether there were enough qualified teachers to fill all those potential new positions, even if the state had the money.  In a last minute compromise, both the Senate and House agreed to suspend the Initiative for four years, and continue with their focus on class size reduction in grades K-3. 

Kennewick Challenges

In Kennewick, we are already experiencing shortages of teachers, especially in high demand areas.  Our substitute pool has been shrinking, as we have hired many of our former subs for full time jobs.  Our neighboring districts are seeing the same increasing demand for teachers as well as a dwindling supply.

For 2016-17, we will continue to take advantage of as much of the state K-3 class size reduction money as possible.  We are moving our excess portables from our middle schools to our elementary schools to provide the space.  We are also adding seven kindergarten teachers to enable Ridge View, Cottonwood, and Sage Crest to offer FDK.  In addition, we are planning on adding approximately 7-10 teachers to grades K-3 around the district – primarily in our higher poverty schools – to reduce class size and take advantage of the state funding. 

One last challenge is that we continue to grow in Kennewick.  Over the last five years, we have grown 1,062 students in elementary alone, or about the size of two elementary schools.  That makes our task of trying to lower class sizes an even greater challenge.  Often, we think we have added teachers and are gaining ground in reducing class sizes.  Then, new students move in and those classes fill back up.  We are constantly evaluating classroom space and where we can add teachers, and remain committed to the goal of lower class sizes.

Vic Roberts
Director of Business Operations

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