At least two Eastside school districts are warning of significant cuts as they try to balance the 2005-06 budget. After years of trimming spending, the Riverview and Northshore...

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At least two Eastside school districts are warning of significant cuts as they try to balance the 2005-06 budget.

After years of trimming spending, the Riverview and Northshore school districts are expecting harder hits to the classroom, including staff and programs.

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A letter recently posted on Riverview district’s Web site explained the district’s problem: a $1.37 million deficit, the largest in at least a decade. An advisory committee has been working on the issue since September, with representatives from the PTA, the Duvall Chamber of Commerce, the teachers union and the district administration.

“We’re preparing to make the best decisions, not the quickest decisions,” said committee member John Nugent, director of business and operations for the 3,000-student district, which includes Carnation and Duvall. “But no matter what, when a list of actual reductions comes out, people always feel threatened and disappointed and undervalued.”

Districts across the state are struggling with similar budget problems. Some face declining enrollment, which means declining state funds. Others are constrained by law in their ability to raise money from levies. All are struggling with the rising cost of utilities and new mandates from the state and federal governments, such as the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“It’s like we’ve been paying the minimum each month on the credit card,” said Susan Stoltzfus, spokeswoman for the Northshore district, which includes schools in Bothell, Woodinville and Kenmore. “You really have to sacrifice sometimes in order to get back to a positive cash flow.”

Northshore, with 20,000 students, expects a significant deficit for next school year, though officials could not say the exact amount. The School Board will hear recommendations this winter, and public hearings will follow. Meanwhile, it is seeking ways to boost its general fund, which pays for daily operations.

Last week, the board approved the transfer of $400,000 in interest from the capital fund, which pays for buildings and construction, into the general fund.

But shuffling funds will go only so far, said Dick Anastasi, executive director of business and finance for Northshore. The district’s current annual budget is about $150 million. The district had to cut $3.97 million last year.

The district cut positions from central administration, scaled back nursing services and eliminated elementary-school sports.

“We are facing some significant challenges at this point,” Anastasi said. “There are no easy choices.”

In the past couple of years, Riverview has used its reserve fund to help cover its shortfall. It also has lowered utility bills.

But next year, Riverview is expecting to cut about 6 percent of its budget, Nugent said. So the hope, he said, is that the advisory committee will come up with a balanced, fair set of recommendations for the School Board to adopt this spring.

“We’ve asked them to help us find wisdom,” Nugent said.

Officials in both districts stressed that the public will have plenty of opportunities to comment on possible budget cuts — and to offer possible solutions. Last year, after the Northshore district eliminated elementary sports, parents organized a pay-for-play program.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com