Public meeting on Tahoma School District budget draws a large crowd

Shelby Bryant made an impassioned plea for her teachers Thursday night during a public meeting on Tahoma School District’s budget.

A report offered up two weeks ago by the district’s budget adjustment committee recommended as part of an effort to trim at least $3.35 million from Tahoma’s budget to cut 18 certified positions — teachers, counselors and librarians.

For Bryant, a sophomore at Tahoma High, the thought of cutting teachers was alarming.

“There’s so many teachers that are being cut when they have students who are excited,” Bryant said. “It’s a flawed system to fire teachers because they are in their first year. There are retire-rehire teachers that are getting cut. That is not fair. Why are you doing it that way?”

Bryant even questioned district superintendent Mike Maryanski about his willingness to sacrifice his job in order to save the jobs of teachers.

Maryanski said that would be a question that would have to be posed to the district’s board of directors since it would be up to them to decide if they want to operate without a superintendent.

Some district teachers spoke offering to take a cut in their pay in an effort to save their colleagues, but claimed that those offers have been ignored by the board of the Tahoma Education Association, the bargaining union for the teachers.

Ethan Smith, who has worked in the district for 13 years teaching math and science now serves as an instructional coach in technology for fellow teachers, said that the union is fractured.

“It is very important to us in TEA … that TEA doesn’t speak as one voice as far as opening negotiations,” Smith said. “We all care about the students we serve.”

Another teacher, Brandon Betlach who works with third graders at Glacier Park Elementary, said he was concerned that the union had not opted to open negotiations or ask its members if they were willing to take pay cuts to save jobs.

“All I’m asking for is how much of a pay cut teachers would have to take to save one job, two jobs, all 18 jobs,” Betlach said.

Jonathan Hartkey, who teachers fourth grade at Glacier Park, said those who are most impacted by the budget cuts are his colleagues.

“It’s not equitable,” Hartkey said. “It’s on the back of the teachers. If you look at this budget every single cut will impact teachers and that will in the end impact students.”

After researching where to live, Diane Giles said that her family chose Maple Valley because the Tahoma School District was consistently ranked among the top districts in the state, and during the three years she has lived here it has lived up to those rankings.

“The past three years … have been nothing short of outstanding,” Giles said. “I hope that the children continue to be the priority. As a parent I’m concerned about class size. I’d like some assurance that the children of this district will continue to receive a high quality education.”

Maryanski said that depending on the state legislature’s final budget, if the money is there, the school board decided last week that the first thing it would try to keep are certified positions.

“There are going to be very few districts across the state that don’t cut teaching positions,” Maryanski said. “It’s not easy to do what we’re doing. It does not feel good.”

Last week the Legislature put out a two page document outlining the operating budget framework for 2009-2011.

In that was cuts of $794 million from K-12 funding with total spending on education at $13.4 billion.

Among the highlights were a reduction of I-728 funding of $600 million, with that particular initiative geared toward reducing class sizes throughout the state, but the state committed to paying for class size reduction in kindergarten through fourth grade.

It also would allow school district levy capacities to be increased by four percent.

Maryanski said the school board would take the information about the state education budget along with “all of the feedback during the past three days” and continue the conversation during the coming weeks as it works to finalize the budget.