The Sequim School Board has unanimously approved cutting the equivalent of 11 staffers for the 2022-2023 school year, including eliminating the position of an administrator who has filed complaints against the district.
The board took the action at a special meeting late Friday afternoon, May 6, in light of enrollment reduction of some 240 students leading to the loss of some $2 million in state revenue, according to interim Sequim school superintendent Joan Zook.
“It’s driven by a serious financial need … to maintain financial stability,” Zook told the board.
The resolution cuts the equivalent of 5.5 full-time certificated instructional staff positions, a group that includes teachers, created through attrition — two positions specifically reduced from the Alternative Learning program, by reassigning staff to other openings — plus another four full-time classified staffers, also created through attrition, and the equivalent of half of the district’s principal of alternative programs position.
It also eliminates the district’s assistant superintendent position, which is currently held by Jennifer Maughan.
Maughan has been on administrative leave since September 2021. The district took that action after Maughan filed a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Commission (HRC) and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging acts of discrimination and retaliation against her by then-interim Superintendent Jane Pryne, according to attorney Shannon McMinimee. Pryne has since resigned.
“This resolution will cost the district far more in a lawsuit for retaliation against a whistle blower,” said Shenna Younger during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Comment from Maughan via McMinimee was sought on Sunday via email but no response had come in by deadline.
District officials didn’t provide board members with details on how much cuts would save on Friday, but Zook said more cuts are likely the following year since federal ESSER (federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds won’t be available.
The district is shifting $1.8 million in ESSER funds to balance the budget,and is looking at cutting $4 million from the budget in 2023-2024 if enrollment doesn’t return to pre-pandemic levels.
“We are not the only district [in this situation]; all 295 districts in the state of Washington are in this process right now,” board director Jim Stoffer noted, referring to a workshop conducted on Wednesday with Olympic Educational Service District (OESD) 114 officials.
“We truly don’t know at this point if our enrollment will come back,” Stoffer said. “This is where we’re at.”
Zook said there may be further cuts to overall classified staff positions; Friday’s meeting was held well before the district’s budget-crafting finalizing process later this year because reduction-in-force notices to certified staffers must be sent out by May 15.
Some of those classified positions simply may go unfilled next school year, she said.
Sequim school officials in recent weeks have discussed cuts to the budget as the district’s general fund balance has dwindled to the point that — as OESD officials noted two days prior —the district may not be able to pay its staffers.
Saralyn Pozernick, vice president of the Sequim Education Association, said in an email in late April that the union is working with district office personnel on staffing issue.
“We are hopeful we can come to a mutually agreeable solution,” she wrote.
Monica Hunsaker, Assistant Superintendent of Financial Service with OESD 114, said Sequim’s general fund balance of 4.89 percent of its overall budget is the lowest balance, percentage-wise, in the region; the state average is 14.7 percent, she said.
“(This low mark) is going to cause cash flow issues for you,” she said.
Hunsaker recommended that Sequim school leaders transfer ESSER funds — federal funds allocated to school districts to offset the effects of the COVID pandemic — to help balance the budget and restore the district’s general fund balance.
The problem this would create, however, is that the district would need to prepare to cut about $4 million in programs the following year, because ESSER funds are one-time-only funding sources, she said.
“ESSER [funding] has helped a lot in some instances,” OESD superintendent Greg Lynch told board directors, “but it’s all one-time money. Any sort of reductions you can do now will reduce those reductions later on. You’re going to be left with some pretty difficult decisions in the next 12 months.”
Regan Nickels, Sequim’s incoming superintendent whose first day is in mid-July, said at the May 4 meeting that she would like to see a three-year plan to trim that $4 million out of the Sequim School District’s budget.
“No matter what reductions you make, you’re going to have some upset people,” Lynch said.
“This work ahead is not for the feint of heart.”
Peninsula Daily News Executive Editor Leah Leach contributed to this story.