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Tacoma Public Schools seeks input on $30 million in cuts

If you have thoughts on the budget cuts coming to Tacoma schools, Thursday will be your first chance to share them.

Tacoma Public Schools will hold “listening tours” over the next few months to get the public’s opinion on their budget for next year, which the district says will be about $30 million short of what is needed.

This was a point of emphasis for the district during the teacher strikes at the beginning of the school year.

The district said the McCleary funding that led to pay raises for many teachers across the state is actually what is harming their bottom line, and they had forewarned they’d be forced to make major cuts because of it.

On Wednesday, the district issued a budget survey asking the community, parents, students, and staff to rank the various services the district provides in order of what they value the most as the budget shortfall could put important programs that help low-income students at risk.

"This comprehensive effort to reach out to the community is very different then what we've done before. We have not faced a reduction, a cut that we need to make of this magnitude before," said Tacoma Public School District Spokesperson Dan Voepel.

Lawmakers acknowledged back in September that the McCleary funding formula disproportionately impacted Tacoma and several other districts, and Tacoma Superintendent Carla Santorno has criticized the model, saying the cap on local levies hurts districts like Tacoma.

"With the new cap, they have limited us to $38 million a year. That's a significant drop in the money we could steer toward programs really to support our kids," said Voepel.

Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton said the union is hopeful the legislature will come up with a fix.

"We've had some great work by our local legislative delegation who is working hard to find a fix not just for Tacoma, but for many other school districts and we're hoping by the end of the session something will be done. Unfortunately, we can’t bet that it will happen. We have to prepare for the worst," said Voepel.

The first meeting is set for Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Mount Tahoma High School, located at 4634 South 74th Street in Tacoma.

People will get two minutes to share their thoughts on what should be included in next year’s budget.

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