Up to 10 due to get pink slips in Sequim schools

By Paul Gottlieb

Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — The School Board targeted up to 10 teaching positions for layoff Monday in anticipation of potential state budget cuts that could force the school district to cut expenditures by $950,000.

After five minutes of board discussion and a half-hour presentation by Superintendent Bill Bentley, the School Board approved 5-0 Bentley’s Modified Instructional Program recommendations and his suggested reduction in force of up to 10 teaching positions.

Board member Virginia O’Neil called the situation “heartbreaking,” while board member Sarah Bedinger said it was the best the district could do under the circumstances.

Bedinger added that the plan’s anticipated reserves would soften the impact of program and staff cuts.

The plan also shows $330,000 in savings from cuts of 5.5 certificated staff, which includes reductions due to enrollment declines and changes in the school funding formula, and which Bentley suggested may occur regardless of what cuts are instituted.

The state Legislature remains in extended special session to develop a two-year state budget that patches a $5.3 billion deficit.

The Legislature has yet to tell school districts how much they will receive in state aid from Olympia, but school districts are forced to formulate their budgets anyway.

Reserves in the Sequim district — which covers the Dungeness Valley and Miller Peninsula and spills over to Gardiner in Jefferson County — would be drawn down to 7 percent to 7.75 percent of the total expenditures of the district — still enough to fund 30 days of school, Bentley said.

Also included are cuts of $100,000 in the district’s curriculum-technology allocation, $75,000 cut in paraeducator staff time, $32,000 in contracted services such as physical and occupational therapy and $20,000 travel, supplies and capital outlay.

But in presenting his Modified Instructional Program that would begin in September, Bentley suggested ways “to mitigate the impact of declining revenue” by employing a combination of spending cuts, expenditures of reserves and bringing back teachers — if they are laid off — through attrition.

“Neither the board nor I would choose to make this recommendation of reduced staffing and programs,” Bentley said in a three-page board memorandum that he read at Monday night’s meeting.

“The educational programs and attention we give our students is not enhanced when these actions must be implemented.”

The cut of up to $950,000 — about 4 percent of the district’s $24 million budget — would occur if the state Legislature passes the Senate version of the state budget that also calls for a 3 percent salary reduction for all staff.

If the House budget is passed, the cut would be $650,000.

Bentley’s program shows $827,000 in cuts to district expenditures.

“We have to look at what is the worst-case scenario is at this point” Bentley said earlier Monday, adding later at the meeting that the House and Senate budgets would be subject to “blending,” and perhaps have less an impact than $950,000.

His plan includes drawing down district reserves by $300,000 a year each in 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years “to mitigate the shortfall and the natural attrition of staff.”

The district must notify specific teachers of anticipated cuts in staffing by May 15, while the Legislature has until May 25 to act on final cuts to fill a $5.3 billion deficit.

School Board members have until the end of August to approve the 2011-2012 budget, Bentley told them.

That means 10 agonizing days after specific staff is officially notified they could be laid off, “we’ll actually get some information to look at the numbers and then begin to put back this puzzle,” Bentley said.

Faced with the same kinds of budget issues as the Sequim School Board, the Port Angeles School Board has earmarked up to 18 Port Angeles School District teachers and 22 other staff members for layoffs.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]

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