Superintendent: Funding issues threaten Port Angeles school programs
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Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News
Jane Pryne, superintendent of the Port Angeles School District said current legislation doesn't carry enough money to meet the state educational mandate.

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles School District still is offering a wide variety of options for both vocational and college-bound students, but state funding issues and graduation mandates are making it difficult, Superintendent Jane Pryne said Monday.

“This was the first time in my 19 years that I have had to balance a budget by borrowing from the fund balance,” Pryne told an audience of about 40 at Monday's Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Port Angeles Yacht Club.

Pryne said she and the School Board attended a conference in Olympia on March 10-11, during which she was told by legislators that despite the Supreme Court's McCleary decision mandating that the state fully fund education, current legislation doesn't carry enough money.

The court decision requires that the Legislature adds $1.7 billion annually to school districts until 2018, the highest amount currently proposed by legislation only is $1.4 billion.

She said she is hoping that the added state funds will be enough to make up for expenses the district has taken on as state funds have dried up.

That has included a 1.9 percent cut in teacher pay.

District staff has been reduced through attrition, as employees retire or depart for other employment, she said.

Student graduation credit requirements will gradually increase from the current state-mandated 19 credits to 24 credits in the next few years, including more academic courses, Pryne said.

Pryne said Port Angeles currently requires 22.5 credits to graduate.

The additional requirements, titled “Core 24” by the state, leave little room for career and technical programs such as afternoon job training courses at the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center, she said.

Currently, high school students can take core courses in the morning at Port Angeles High School and three hours of vocational classes at the west-side skills center in the afternoon.

That enables students to graduate with a diploma and job skill certificates, ready to begin work in one of several career paths available, including composites technology or graphic arts.

“I don't know what this will do to the skills center,” Pryne said of the state fund shift.

Despite the decreasing funding, increasing graduation requirements and the loss of vocational options, the district has increased the on-time graduation rate by 5 percent, from 78 percent in 2010 to 83 percent in 2012, she said.

“We would like to reach 100 percent,” she added.

Pryne also addressed the district's efforts to replace four aging school buildings.

About 62 members of the district's Long Range Facilities Task Force is developing a concept for what school buildings and education will look like in 10, 15 or 20 years, and last through 2050 or longer.

The district's four oldest schools — including the high school — were built in the 1950s with a planned life­span of between 30 and 40 years.

The School Board in 2012 determined that they are past the point when they should be replaced.

The board asked the task force to study how the district should best approach replacing those schools, how big and where they should be located and what kind of technology should be integrated into classrooms, among
other tasks.

In 2008, the cost of replacing the four schools was estimated to be about $70 million — Garrid Larson, 19, of Forks, about half of which could be paid for through state grants.

Members of the chamber asked about whether the district has considered adding related funding issues, such as upgrades to Civic Field, could be included in an overall schools levy, to reduce the number of small levies that voters must approve.

“We haven't discussed that,” Pryne said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 25. 2013 6:05PM
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