Washington Governor Orders 8.2% Cut in Budget

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Seattle--Washington state's schools, already hit by a $151-million cut in state funding prepared for the worst last week as Gov. John Spellman reluctantly ordered all state agencies, including public schools, to slice an additional 8.2 percent from their budgets.

Governor Spellman's order came in the wake of an announcement by state budget officials that Washington's budget deficit would balloon to a projected $253 million by the end of the current biennium in mid-1983.

The cut, if it takes effect, would deprive the state's 300 school districts of about $129 million and has brought threats of lawsuits from the districts and the state's largest teachers' union.

The total state appropriation for schools in the fiscal year 1982 was about $3.2 billion, or 46 percent of the state's entire general fund. Cuts already made in the current biennium include more than $6 million from pupil transportation, $1.6 million from vocational education, $4.3 million from bilingual programs, and $120,000 from refugee programs.

An 8.2-percent cut would be "beyond the bounds of toleration," said Frank (Buster) Brouillet, state superintendent of public instruction.

Final Decision Left to Legislature

Despite the budget-cut order, Governor Spellman left the final decision on balancing the budget to the state legislature. Ignoring the advice of top legislative leaders, the Governor has summoned lawmakers back to the state capitol for a special session scheduled to begin June 26. The lawmakers may devise a solution of their own or leave the Governor's order intact.

While Governor Spellman predicted that the session would launch the third round of spending cuts in less than a year, he has suggested that lawmakers raise taxes so the cuts can be eased. But with November elections around the corner, school officials and legislators alike said the chances of a substantial tax increase are slim.

Washington does not now have a state income tax. The lumber and aerospace industries, which are of critical importance to the state's economy, are in a severe slump.

In the meantime, school officials are scrapping budgets prepared and looking again for more places to make cuts.

The Seattle School District, the state's largest, would be hardest hit by an additional budget cut. The district, which this year operated on a $166-million budget, has already absorbed $16 million in cuts because of earlier state and federal reductions.

The new proposed cut, if it is not eased by the legislature, would cost the district another $10 million.

District officials, who because of contract obligations cannot lay off any more teachers have said that the cut would force them to substantially reduce all programs, including regular classroom instruction, special- and bilingual-education programs for the disadvantaged and gifted, and transportation services--including those allocated for mandatory and voluntary desegregation.

Layoff Notices

Last month, the district sent layoff notices to 508 of its 2,000 teachers because of state and federal budget cuts. Statewide, the funding reductions have required the layoff of more than 900 school employees.

"With that kind of money, we'd have to look at every aspect of the budget itself," said Robert Nelson, the district's deputy superintendent. The cuts, Nelson said, would "decimate" the schools.

That scenario has prompted threats of lawsuits from 24 school districts, led by Seattle, and from the 40,000-member Washington Education Association (wea). The wea and the districts are already in court fighting with the state over the question of full funding for public schools.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that the state must "fully fund" basic education, which is now defined by the state legislature as regular in-class instruction only. Despite the narrow definition, the state has actually funded only about 55 percent of Seattle's basic-education costs, said Michael Hoge, lawyer for the Seattle district.

Cuts to 'Go Even Deeper'

The Governor's proposed cuts would "go even deeper than the cut Spellman called illegal" less than three months ago, Mr. Hoge added. In March, in a speech to businessmen and school superintendents, Governor Spellman threatened to make a 7.8-percent across-the-board cut in funds for schools and other agencies unless the legislature solved the state's financial crisis. At that time, the governor said the cut would ''probably be illegal" because it would cut into basic education.

Despite that evidence, the districts and the wea have decided to wait for the time being instead of immediately filing an injunction to stop the new proposed cut. In October, the groups filed a similar injunction before the state supreme court after another threat by Governor Spellman to make a 10.1 percent cut.

But in a 5-4 decision, the court denied the injunction, thus giving the legislature the chance to deal with the spending crisis first. And with a special session again pending, Mr. Hoge said, the districts would be wise to wait and see before taking additional legal action.

The state and the districts are scheduled to fight the funding issue again in January, when another hearing on the case is set.

Vol. 01, Issue 39

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