Court Refuses to Exempt Washington Schools from Bidget Cuts
Schools in Washington State have been denied a reprieve from an emergency 10.1-percent cut in state support--a cut that educators say may force layoffs of thousands of teachers.
The Washington Supreme Court refused last week to issue an emergency injunction that would have exempted school districts from the across-the-board reduction in state spending ordered by Governor John Spellman to avert a state deficit now projected at $655 million dollars.
The loss to education, which makes up more than half the state budget, is expected to total $330-million over this year and next.
"This was a heavy blow to the educational community," said George Daniels, school superintendent of suburban Kent, Wash., of the court's ruling.
The injunction had been sought by the Seattle public schools, joined by 32 other school districts and educational groups. They argued that the loss of revenue would do "immediate and irreparable harm" to schools, and that the state is failing to pay the full cost of basic education, as required by the Washington constitution.
Without judging the latter issue, which will eventually be considered as part of a lawsuit filed earlier by Seattle schools, the court decided by a vote of five to four not to block the governor's action at this time.
Ironically, the justices may have refused an emergency injunction in part because school districts simply cannot immediately reduce their spending as ordered by the governor.
Districts are bound by a state law governing teacher contracts that makes it impossible to lay off many teachers until next year.
Though some legislators have suggested changing the law to permit breaking union contracts, observers say the court may have concluded that no immediate damage to the educational process is likely, and therefore no emergency injunction is in order.
"It's difficult to show irreparable damage, because most districts just cannot take the cuts," said Frank B. Brouillet, state superintendent of public instruction.
But that leaves school administrators in an extemely difficult position, receiving 10-percent less money from the state, yet unable to do much to reduce spending this year.
"We already have contracts with teachers, and we have fixed utility bills to pay," said Donald Steele, superintendent of Seattle schools, which face a $9-million deficit this year and an $11-million deficit next year.
"We've already cut our other staff, and we can't close schools without preparing an environmental impact statement," Mr. Steele said.
450 Teachers May Be Dismissed
Seattle, like other Washington school systems, may be forced to run a deficit this year and make up for it next year, while absorbing next year's aid reduction as well--for a total budget cut next year of $20 million.
That would mean dismissing 450 Seattle teachers, closing 30 schools, and, if the voters approve, increasing the local property-tax levy by 70 percent, Seattle administrators say.
Educators' only hope for relief now rests with the state legislature, which will convene Nov. 9 for a special session to deal with the state's financial crisis.
"The ball is now in the legislature's court," said Robert Marshall, executive director of the Washington State School Director's Association. "To increase taxes would be the only responsible action the legislature could take."
Educators have vowed to lobby for higher revenues, but leaders in the Republican-controlled legislature say they will seek to cut school costs attributable to state rules.
Besides proposing to cancel teachers' contracts, lawmakers have talked of shortening the school year, reducing school busing, and eliminating state-mandated special-education programs.