At Kent Schools, the Grown-ups Can Find Cuts that Don't Hurt Kids' Programs

Apr 6, 2011

Parents in Kent are rightfully upset to learn that school district officials plan to cut music, sports and classroom support programs in an effort to bring district spending in line with revenues. School officials say the cuts are needed because, “Our funding has been greatly reduced.” Kent school funding is actually increasing, as the chart below shows.

Officials at the Kent School District are asking parents to fill out an online survey to help the School Board implement $6 to $7 million in reductions for the 2011-12 budget. Meetings have been held and parents are loudly objecting to proposed cuts in elementary physical education ($2.48 million) and elementary music ($3.8 million). These parents correctly sense something is badly amiss in this process.

Parents who suspect something is missing are right. Amid all the discussion about shortfalls and the urgent need for cuts, important information about Kent School District spending is not included in the survey description. For example, a review of the Kent public school budget shows:

  • The district’s budget is growing. Spending is set to rise by $9.5 million, from $249.1 million in 2009-10 to $258.6 million budgeted for 2010-11, an increase of 3.8%.
  • In November the district had a reported reserve fund balance of $24.3 million.
  • Nearly a hundred district employees make more than $100,000 a year.
  • The superintendent makes $250,000 plus benefits, more than the Governor.
  • About $1.1 million in Kent education funding is paid each year to unions in the form of mandatory dues.

None of this information was provided when parents were asked to cut music and sports programs for kids. Many district costs are driven by unions and the closed-door collective bargaining process, yet no collective bargaining-related programs are included in the list of potential cuts. The salaries and benefits of the adults in the system are safe — only programs that affect children are slated for cuts.

An open-minded review of Kent’s quarter-billion dollar budget shows there are commonsense ways to close a $7 million budget gap without hurting learning opportunities for kids. Cutting music, classroom support and physical education in Kent is not necessary — with new information and a fresh start, the grown-ups can find a better way.