News

Sequim schools prepare staffing, program cuts

by MICHAEL DASHIELL
Sequim Gazette

Anticipating an almost $1 million budget shortfall before the next school year, the Sequim School District’s board of directors agreed to a number of program cuts Monday night, including layoffs of up to 10 staffers.

 

Board members voted unanimously to trim the equivalent of 10 full-time teachers within the district and suspend adoption of new materials and technology.

 

“These are not fun decisions — not one person in the room wants to make them,”

Sequim school superintendent Bill Bentley said.

 

“You have to make decisions based on resources you have, not the ones you want.”

 

The cuts are made in light of a districtwide decline in enrollment and a budget proposal from state senators that would leave Sequim schools $950,000 short of funding the same programs offered in 2010-  2011.

 

Bentley said Monday night’s proposal “addresses the absolute worst-case scenario,” he said. “At the same time (we) hope that’s not what happens.”

 

Sequim school board directors agreed to the proposal, though several expressed regret at having to make the staffing cuts.

 

“The work in the community and board on our levy (means) we do not have as much of a reduction in

force than we do now,” school board director Sarah Bedinger said.

 

“We’re doing this because it’s a legal requirement. While I don’t like to (make the cuts), it’s the best proposal we can come up with.”

Staffing cuts come in May

Bentley said staffing cuts would not necessarily mean the latest-hired teachers are let go. Some staffers who have certifications in particular subject areas may be retained despite a relative lack of seniority. Bentley also said vocational programs and staffers likely would not see many cuts because the school district receives outside funding for those budget items.

 

Because of contractual obligations, the school district must notify teachers with reduction-in-force documents by May 15. But some of those teachers may be asked to return to the district if the state budget does not cut education funding as severely as the senate proposes. Furthermore, the cuts to staff may be lessened by not filling positions left open by retiring teachers.

 

Bentley indicated the school district might want to use some of the general fund balance to offset the cutbacks. Much like a family checking account, a general fund is the dollar amount a school district carries over from year to year.

 

Bentley suggested the board consider taking about $300,000 from the general fund to supplement the district’s budget each year for the next three years, leaving the district with about 7 percent to 7.5 percent of its overall annual operating costs in that general fund.

 

“We feel like we’re in this problem (for three years),” he said.

Enrollment drop

With an enrollment equivalent of about 2,640 full-time students this year, the Sequim School District saw its lowest enrollment in at least four years, down from 2,760 students at the beginning of the 2005 school year.

 

“We’re a declining enrollment district.” Bentley said.

 

The drop in student population fuels some of the staff reductions; with fewer students, Sequim schools can consolidate some courses.

 

But with more cuts to what Sequim school officials call an already lean budget, students and parents can expect a different school district next fall: fewer electives at the middle schools and high schools, fewer staffers and larger class sizes, even at the elementary schools.

 

Bentley said it’s possible to see three, four or up to five more students in each classroom.

 

“That (trend) is going to continue,” he said.

 

Despite voter-led initiatives to combat swelling class sizes, the state government has suspended Initiative 728 and K-4 Enhancement funding.

A shorter school year?

State legislators are proposing a 3-percent cut to school staff across the state, the equivalent of five days of school operation. Legislators have indicated they may allow local school boards and districts to handle how that would happen, Bentley said.

 

A provision in the state constitution does allow for school districts to apply for waivers from the state’s 180-day school year requirement.

 

As part of the program cuts signed Monday night, the Sequim School District’s board of directors agreed to support Bentley’s recommendation to apply for the waiver if it’s available.

 

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Bentley said, noting that keeping schools open for those extra five days — at a cost of at least $100,000 per day — using local levy dollars is not possible.

 

Bentley said he also will bring to the board recommendations to reduce spending on technology and to cease adoption of new materials such as textbooks.

 

 

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

 

 

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