August 4, 2008
Camas School Workers Simmer
By HOWARD BUCK
CAMAS - Classified school employees stand to lose positions and hundreds of work hours under a 2008-09 budget plan up for a public hearing on Monday.
Stagnant growth, a soaring payroll and higher energy costs have Camas School District leaders scrambling to trim its spending by nearly $1.6 million.
An expected crowd of classified workers, clad in union T-shirts and toting signs, has forced a change of venue for the 5:30 p.m. school board meeting to Skyridge Middle School.
"Shirts and signs - and leaflets," said Larry Church, regional field representative for the Public School Employees union, which plans a display of solidarity.
Under a budget proposal the district unveiled in June, spending reductions would be spread across all schools and affect many services.
Cuts would include several special education aides and two grade- school math specialists (combined savings: $399,000); grade-school summer school and kindergarten literacy work ($224,000); two middle- school instructors and 2.5 elementary math specialist positions ($336,000); no planning principal for new grade schools being constructed, nor a central special programs director ($258,000).
What has riled the classified staff union are dozens of cuts proposed for hourly workers. School health assistants would work just four-hour days, elementary school librarian and computer lab duties would merge, and food cashier, food server and office staff hours would shrink.
"Same story as always, just a new year," Church said. "They're the least-paid group in the district, the lowest paid, least hours. You can make several cuts there, and it doesn't add up to much. It doesn't add up to one administrator."
No one disputes that Camas faces real budget pressure. Fuel costs are up an estimated 73 percent in the same year that teachers and classified staff won 5.1 percent and 4.4 percent cost-of-living- adjustment pay hikes, respectively, from state legislators. Newly mandated pension rates are nearly 3 percent higher.
Olympia pays only for employees under the state's "basic education" rubric, leaving out salary increases for extra teachers and aides supported by taxpayer-approved local levy dollars. That leaves Camas on the hook for nearly one-third of the increased COLA cost, about $1.2 million in 2008-09 alone.
Meanwhile school enrollment growth has slacked from a robust 5 percent per year to just 1 percent, officials say.
Gary Tipton, school board president, said there's little sign the Camas housing market will rebound soon, and flat growth means less future state support than had been expected.
Church said neither district officials nor the board have responded to creative solutions posed by his group. Those include small salary or COLA rollbacks, even a slightly shorter school year or weekly schedule, he said.
Monday's show of force is meant to spur rethinking of faulty budget assumptions, he said.
Tipton said the district has "turned over every rock" for savings, and that the budget plan protects classroom instruction and student health and safety. To dodge needed cutbacks would be "derelict," he said.
On Monday, "We're going to listen respectfully, as we always do," Tipton said. "We'll take as much time as we need."
Previously: Camas school officials unveiled proposed budget cuts in June.
What's new: A public hearing on the budget plan begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Skyridge Middle School media center, 5220 N.W. Parker St.
What's next: A final 2008-09 budget must be approved by Aug. 31.
Howard Buck covers schools and education. He can be reached at 360-735-4515 or
Originally published by HOWARD BUCK Columbian staff writer.
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