Arlington schools 'State of the District' address: $2.4 million may have to be cut

Arlington Superintendent Kris McDuffy talks to community members and school staff during her state of the district address on Jan. 29. - Adam Rudnick
Arlington Superintendent Kris McDuffy talks to community members and school staff during her state of the district address on Jan. 29.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON — Arlington parents recently had a chance to see two state addresses in two days — one by President Barack Obama and another by Superintendent Kris McDuffy.

"I chose my date a long time ago, before President Obama chose his," joked McDuffy during her "State of the District" address Thursday, Jan. 28. "For some reason he didn't call me."

Although McDuffy began her talk with a joke, the Arlington superintendent addressed the district's serious financial challenges during her hour-long speech in Post Middle School's library.

About 75 school administrators, teacher, community members and parents attended McDuffy's district address, which was punctuated by a 15-minute discussion on the 2010-11 school year's preliminary budget.

McDuffy said that based on the Gov. Chris Gregoire's estimated state budget — currently $2.6 billion in the red — the Arlington School District may have to cut at much as $2.4 million out of its already slashed budget.

The district eliminated $3.8 million from its 2009-2010 budget in 2009, which resulted in dozens of layoffs.

Many of those positions have been brought back this school year, McDuffy said.

"It's significant and it's going to be really tough," McDuffy told the audience. "As tough as the issues are, we're going to figure it out."

McDuffy did not go into specifics about what types of cuts the district may have to make, and said she won't know more until the state updates its revenue forecast on Feb. 18.

One of the major reasons for the shrinking district budget is decreasing enrollment at Arlington schools for the past 10 years.

During McDuffy's speech, she explained that approximately 4,500 students were enrolled in district schools during the 1998-99 school year, which grew to more than 5,200 students in 2006-07.

But enrollment has slowly dropped during the past five years. District officials are projecting 5,184 students will enroll in the Arlington schools in 2010-11.

School districts receive funding based on their enrollment.

McDuffy also discussed some of the potential facilities projects that Arlington schools need, but admitted that finding funding for these projects would be very difficult.

Those projects include refurbishing Trafton Elementary, Post Middle School and re-roofing Haller Middle School's gymnasium, among other items.

The school district has "excess capacity," meaning that it has unused classroom space.

Generally schools that are overcrowded are better able to secure state matching funding for voter-approved capital project bonds.

Since the district is running under capacity, it would likely not be able to seek state money for school improvements, McDuffy said.

According to McDuffy's presentation, Arlington schools can hold approximately 6,500 students, but have only about 5,200 students.

"If you ask any school principal, that excess space is still being used," she said.

McDuffy's state of the district speech was not all about the district's challenges — the superintendent also shared with the audience some recent staff, school and student achievements.

She also spoke briefly about administrators being committed to continuous improvement through their district-wide strategic planning efforts, which began in fall 2009.

"We want to be the best, and that has to start with clarity," McDuffy said. "That means being open and honest with you and with ourselves."

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