School board considering $2M in budget cuts

The projected cuts aren’t as severe, but Sequim schools superintendent Dr. Rob Clark anticipates having to cut about $2 million from the school district’s approximate $41.6 million budget for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Clark presented a modified version of his budget plan to board directors on April 27.

The reductions, he noted, are drawn from across the district, from supplies, extra-and co-curricular activities, travel costs and technology as well as from personnel positions from custodial, transportation and special education departments.

The biggest cuts by dollar figure are from basic education — $700,000 that would pay for about eight teaching positions — along with 15 paraeducators (teacher and school assistants), saving the district $450,000.

“If we need to cut $2 million (from the budget) the majority of that has to come from salaries,” Clark said at a board workshop on April 27.

While the board doesn’t have to approve a budget plan for the 2020-2021 academic year until August, the district needs to notify staff of their employment status by mid-May.

“This is better than it was two weeks ago but it is still unpleasant,” Clark said.

Clark’s projected cuts dropped from his April 13 proposal by about $600,000 after the district saw some staff give notice of resignations, retirements or temporary leaves.

That includes the retirement of Mark Willis, administrator for Olympic Peninsula Academy and former Sequim Middle School principal and Sequim High assistant principal, whose position will not be replaced, Clark said.

He also noted that some Sequim staffers are looking to get hired on at other districts, which could affect the total number of staff positions to be eliminated.

While some of those positions can be filled internally or absorbed into other jobs, the district will likely still need to make some hires depending on staff being certified for those roles.

Sequim administrators are projecting a drop in enrollment of about 36 students from March 2020 to the start of next school year — and a drop of about 125 students from what the district budget for in 2019-2020.

The school district’s funding is largely dependent on student enrollment.

“Until we know what the start of school looks like it’s hard to make any projections,” Clark said Monday.

“We could have some more turnover (and) enrollment is still a little bit of a mystery,” he said.

Board directors will be asked to adopt a resolution for staff reductions at their May 11 regular meeting — the board was scheduled to meet May 4 but directors on Monday agreed to push back the meeting one week — with notices delivered to staff by May 15.

The majority of the projected staff cuts come from the paraeducator pool. Clark said the number (15) was drawn from the first-year hires at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. The cuts will disproportionally affect elementary schools, who have a higher proportion of paraeducators, he said.

Greywolf principal Donna Hudson, who gave a school improvement program report Monday night, said, “when you hear about losing staff members, it’s not what any principal wants to hear. That being said, we all have to do what is good for the district.”

The elementary school went to a seven-period day in 2019-2020, which actually helped reduce some staffing figures, Hudson said.

In response to board director Larry Jeffryes question if those staffers could be hired back, Clark noted that they would be first in line for rehiring if the budget figures are more promising.

General fund in balance

Board director Eric Pickens said he’s concerned about cutting staff, particularly in a time of economic uncertainty.

“I can’t think of a worse time, given everything that’s happening,” he said Monday. “My biggest concern is really making sure that this is absolutely necessary.”

Fewer staff means larger class sizes, he said.

“(That’s) more of a workload on the staff one way or another; that’s another factor we have to consider,” he said.

“I want the lowest class size in the state. I know … we can’t just magically get there. We have to get the funding to support that.

“I want to serve the students. Low class size ratios are certainly a way to do it.”

Pickens asked about the possible downside(s) to using district general funds to keep staff in place for another year, and issuing reduction-in-force (RIF) notices before mid-May 2021.

Clark said the general fund balance would dip below $1 million — a dangerous place to be, he said, considering the uncertainty of not only the 2020-2021 school year but the following academic year, coupled with uncertainty around local taxpayers’ ability to pay their property taxes.

“I think the biggest hangup for me in not RIFing anybody and trying to make it is the May 15 deadline,” Clark said Monday.

“I do believe we will have some (staff) movement but we won’t have the movement until after May 15.

“I’m obligated to put forth the best and most realistic budget.”

With a cash carry-over of less than $1 million, Clark said, “that would be tough to make up.”

A significant part of the recommended cuts, he said, is adjusting to being over-staffed in recent years.

“We can’t continue to lay off staff,” board director Brian Kuh said Monday. “Real quick, we’re going to be bumping up against class size limits (and) building capacity limits.”

Levy on the horizon

In recent weeks, the Sequim School District hosted public forms to consider the possibility of a bond or capital project levy to help with aging infrastructure and safety issues.

A bond is likely out of consideration, Clark said, but he said the board should keep in consideration a small capital projects levy.

Regardless, he said, the district needs to have funding from an Educational Operations and Programs (EP&O) levy, a four-year levy that runs out in 2021.

EP&O levies pay for more teachers to reduce class sizes, programs such as Highly Capable and Advanced Placement courses, curriculum, books and technology, overall district maintenance and activities such as sports and after-school clubs.

“We have no choice but to run the EP&O levy,” Clark said Monday. “I’m not going to tell you we’d have to shut the doors but (it’d be) awful close.”

But board directors should keep in mind a small, two- or three-year capital projects levy that would help get to long-standing projects across the district.

“A lot of that’s going to depend on the economy; I recognize that completely (but) I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring it up,” Clark said.

Board director Jim Stoffer said he’s in support of running a capital projects levy.

“We have a long list going back to 2008, 2012 that we can prioritize,” he said Monday.

Board directors agreed to move their May meetings to the second and fourth Mondays — rather than first and third — in May. See www.sequimschools.org or call 360-582-3260 for more information.

Considering the cuts

Sequim school board directors approved superintendent Dr. Rob Clark’s modified budget reduction plan on April 27 that will shed about $2 million from the Sequim School District’s offerings come next fall:

• Basic education (8 teacher positions) — $700,000

• Classified staff (15 paraeducator positions) — $450,000

• Administration (one position) — $150,000

• Special education (certified staff/specialists) — $150,000

• Extra curricular/co-curricular activities — $100,000

• Custodial/maintenance (two positions) — $90,000

• Extra duty stipends/extra days/co-curricular — $75,000

• Supplies/materials — $75,000

• Contracted services — $50,000

• Curriculum/technology/facilities — $50,000

• District office — $50,000

• Travel — $50,000

• Secretarial (one position) — $40,000

• Transportation (two positions) — $40,000

Total: $2,070,000

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