Despite a somewhat more positive financial picture than in previous weeks, an expected decline in enrollment, and the unsure status of several funding sources for a mid-May deadline has led Sequim School District leaders to prepare for less staff in the 2020-2021 school year.
Board directors voted 4-1 Monday night to trim the equivalent of 11.2 certificated staff from current staffing levels.
The district has seen the equivalent of eight FTE retirements, resignations and approved leave-of-absence notifications, so a little more than three full-time staff positions would need to be cut, Sequim schools superintendent Rob Clark noted.
Reductions would come from all school levels, including elementary (4), special education (2.4), middle school (2.0), secondary (1.8) and administration (1).
Clark said the recommendation was based on projected funding for the 2020-2021 school year and an expected decrease in student enrollment.
“Not making these cuts is … putting the district in a precarious financial situation,” Clark said. “I would not put forth this resolution if I did not think this was the right thing to do.”
The school district’s hand is forced in a way, Clark said, with needing to notify certified staff (teachers and administrators) with a notice by May 15 if the district did not expect to retain their position.
“There are things that could happen in the next two months … that could impact this positively,” Clark said, well before the board is expected to pass the next school year’s budget in August.
“We have an obligation to do these things by May 15,” Clark said, referring to the notices to staff.
“Our enrollment is still down, and we’re trying to right size our district to the prototypical model.”
Board directors Larry Jeffryes, Brian Kuh, Jim Stoffer and board president Brandino Gibson expressed reluctance in their affirmative votes Monday night while board director Eric Pickens voted against the recommendation.
“I know each one of our votes was on a fine line,” Gibson said.
Clark in mid-April recommended about $2.6 million in reductions to Sequim school’s education plan and later revised that to about $2 million in reductions a couple of weeks later.
Since then, he said, levy collections have been better than staff had expected while the district received about $700,000 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
But the federal funding may come with requirements that have not yet been made clear, Clark said.
“Until I know the parameters of how we can spend that money and not spend that money, I’m hesitant to change boats in the middle of the stream of this,” he said.
“I’ve never received money from the federal government that didn’t have strings. What those strings are, I don’t know. I would be very hesitant to earmark those monies at this time.”
Pickens said either the CARES funding, or money from Sequim’s general fund could cover the 3.2 FTE positions for the next school year, when more retirements, resignations and staff taking leave would absorb those position losses.
Clark said those staffing positions could cost the district between $250,000-$300,000.
“If there’s any way of doing through attrition that’s the first option,” Pickens said. “I appreciate Dr. Clark’s bringing it to us; it’s right thing to do, given the situation with the budget.”
Monday’s recommendation dealt with certificated staff only; in previous educational plan modifications, Clark had recommended cutting 15 paraeducators and personnel position cuts to custodial and transportation departments as well.
Clark said he’s also concerned about what may happen in the fall when staff are asked to come back to work and some may not come back for health reasons.
“They have to think of themselves and their health,” Clark said.
“At the same time from a financial standpoint as a district, there’s a financial impact,” he said, if the district is paying for a staffer to be excused and also pay for a replacement.
Jeffryes said he was voting for the recommended cuts but that it wasn’t an easy decision, a sentiment echoed by other board directors.
“I do feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “I don’t want to paint us into a corner that we’ll be sorry for.”
Jeffryes said he hopes to see the district be in a position to hire back those whose positions were cut.
“I don’t want to give them false hope but we’re going to do everything we can,” he said.
“These are our teachers, our neighbors, our friends; that’s always tough … especially in a small community like ours. We are elected to monitor the financial stability of the district. This is a part of that.
With concern over how students in secondary schools will be graded, the Seattle School Board on April 20 adopted a policy giving all high-school students either A’s or incomplete grades for the spring 2020 semester, in consideration of the hardships of remote learning.
Clark said Sequim and other districts are leaning toward a similar approach.
“We do not want to put our students at a disadvantage when they are competing for places at colleges and scholarships with other students,” he said.
School in the fall?
Clark said many of the other superintendents in the region he spoke with earlier on Monday said school will likely look much different than it did in March of 2020.
“While everyone’s fairly positive (to have school ) in the fall, I think they are all leaning toward a sort of hybrid model,” he said. “It will look different than any school opening we’ve had in the past.”
A group being formed this week by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction made up of teachers, principals, school board members, parents, administrators, community members and legislators hope to have some recommendations for districts, he said.
“I think the one thing that will be consistent… (is the) social distancing parameters and the requirement of facial coverings,” Clark said.
He also said Monday the district is pursuing the possibility of hosting online classes
“That gives another avenue of learning for our students who for whatever reason decide not to attend a brick-and-mortar school,” Clark said.
Other board business:
• Directors thanked the Sequim PC Users group for the recent donation of about 100 computers. The computers were distributed to students on April 14. “These are refurbished computers we are giving out to our kids. These are desktops, laptops (and) I believe there are some ChromeBooks,” Clark said. “We would not be moving forward as well with our distance learning without these devices.”
• The board accepted resignations from Michelle and Steve Mahitka. Michelle is a teacher at Sequim Options School, and Steve is an agriculture science teacher and Career and Technical Education director at Sequim High School. Directors accepted the resignation for purpose of retirement from Greywolf Elementary School’s Cheryl Duchow, a speech and language pathologist. They also approved a 0.5 full-time equivalent leave for Sequim High teacher Katherine Ward.
The Sequim School Board’s next scheduled meeting is set for Tuesday, May 26 — shifted one day because of the Monday holiday (Memorial Day). Like the May 11 meeting, it will be a virtual meeting. See www.sequimschools.org for more information or links to the meeting. In June the board reverts back to meeting on the first and third Mondays of the month (June 1, June 15).