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Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Accounting snafus may cost jobs of 45 Shoreline teachers

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Shoreline School District may lay off as many as 45 teachers next year to fill a budget gap left by major accounting mistakes that have put Superintendent James Welsh's job in question.

The five-member School Board, which met Monday, is combing through the budget, looking for any way to save money — from charging students more to play on sport teams to cutting nurses, librarians and security officers.

After the problem was first revealed in November, the district's top two financial officers left. Then, two weeks ago, the School Board put Welsh on paid leave.

The district is more than $5 million short this year.

Teachers, the public and even some members of the School Board still are wondering exactly what happened to a district known for good test scores, low teacher turnover and a history of passing bonds. The district is even in the process of giving a laptop to every student after a technology levy that passed in February.

Teachers union President Cheryl Ricevuto said she worries that more budget cuts could threaten the quality of teaching in the 10,000-student district.

Shoreline has a better teacher-student ratio than comparable districts, according to a recent consultants' report.

"Whether it's incompetence or intentional misrepresentation, the end results are the same," Ricevuto said. "We're in this situation. The board has to find out what happened."

The consultants hired after district comptroller Paul Flemming and director of budget and accounting John Scudder left late last year say they know what happened.

The district was in poor financial shape going into this school year, with only $240,000 in a savings account that should have had millions of dollars, according to the consultants. The district couldn't afford any mistakes, then it made two big ones.

First, Fleming estimated the district had 3,500 vocational students. Actually, it has about 700.

Since the state funds districts based on how many students they have, that error meant the school-year budget included about $2 million more than it would receive.

After the board approved the current year's budget in August, Flemming changed some numbers before he sent it to the state. The final budget gave a more accurate picture and revealed the district would be in the red for this school year.

The board never saw that revised version, said President Mike Jacobs.

"My job was to inform the superintendent, and I did that," said Fleming, who retired in November.

Fleming blames the problem on the superintendent, who he said knew of the problem. "We made the superintendent aware that the revenue was going to be short, but there was never a decision made to reduce that spending plan."

Welsh could not be reached for comment.

And the bad news keeps coming: Monday night, the board learned the district had been paying some ongoing costs from its capital budget, creating an additional $400,000 shortfall that will have to be reconciled.

"The district is not going to end this year in the black," said Bob Boesche, a consultant. "They will be in the red."

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published April 25, 2006, was corrected April 25, 2006. Shoreline School District's former comptroller is Paul Flemming and the former director of budget and accounting was John Scudder. Both names were misspelled in a previous version of this story.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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