Peninsula school districts mulling cutbacks

Reduction likely in future for many

As public school district officials across the North Olympic Peninsula begin their budgeting process for the coming school year, many are eyeing the possibility of instituting a reduction in force if not for next year, then for the following year, due to rising operational costs and low enrollment.

The legal deadline to notify staff that positions may be eliminated through RIF (reduction in force) for the coming school year is May 15.

The Sequim School Board discussed at a recent meeting possible reductions in staff to balance the budget for the coming 2022-2023 school year.

“While we want to keep all of our staff … it will be difficult to maintain that [staffing level],” Director of Finance Darlene Apeland said.

In Chimacum, the superintendent expects that, although some positions might be cut, none will be those of teachers.

“We think we can right-size the district without having to do anything too draconian,” Chimacum Superintendent Scott Mauk said.

“We are looking at reducing some positions, but we don’t think any of those will be from our teaching staff,” Mauk said.

A $2 million shortfall is expected if district officials make no changes. It would take some $1.4 million in reductions to bring that shortfall to a tolerable level, Mauk said.

“We’re built to just have more students that we don’t have,” Mauk said.

Crescent School District in Joyce may need to cut some positions — but not this year.

“I think we are in good shape to weather the storm for next school year, but if we continue to see a real significant increase in operational costs or a real significant enrollment decrease, we will probably have to have a very serious look at staffing for the 2023-2024 school year,” Superintendent Dave Bingham said.

A portion of a position is funded by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars. That 0.3 full-time-equivalent (FTE) position probably won’t be refilled, Bingham said this week.

Federal ESSER funds were provided to support public schools during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Port Angeles School District is planning to use its ESSER dollars, as well as enrollment stabilization funds, to avoid a reduction in force for the 2022-2023 school year.

“The district will reassess in the spring of 2023 and likely experience some reduction in force for the 2023-24 school year,” said Carmen Geyer, PASD communications coordinator.

Officials with both the Port Townsend and Brinnon school districts said they aren’t expecting significant staff cuts in the coming school year but are concerned about the 2023-2024 school year.

“We can’t predict reduction in force at this time, but we are hopeful to not be put in that situation and will do everything we can to avoid it,” said Lauri McGinnis, PTSD human resources director.

Quillayute Valley School District has no plans to make cuts for the coming year.

“We’re not knowing exactly how funding will look for the following year, but it does not look like we will need to (make cuts) in Forks,” Superintendent Diana Reaume said.

Officials with the Cape Flattery and Quilcene school districts could not be reached for comment.

Enrollment is a key driver for school funding. Public school districts in Washington state receive revenue from the state based on student enrollment.

Many Peninsula districts have seen significant drops in enrollment, said officials, who anticipate that trend to continue into the coming year.

Sequim School District had about 2,440 full-time-equivalent students as of earlier this month — down from about 2,700 FTEs in April 2019.

“Our enrollment is driving what our staff is supposed to be,” Apeland said.

Port Angeles School District had about 3,440 FTE students as of December 2021, but anticipates enrollment to drop to 3,350 in the coming school year.

Chimacum School District has about 625 FTE students, but officials estimate it will lose 25 FTEs in the coming school year.

Crescent School District reportedly over-estimated its enrollment for this year by about nine FTEs and is estimating a 2 percent reduction in enrollment. There are about 203 FTE students currently.

Port Townsend officials believe its enrollment will hold steady into the 2022-2023 school year. As of this month, it has 1,190 full-time students.

Brinnon School Superintendent Patricia Beathard said that even though the pre-K-through-eighth-grade school is small, enrollment can vary greatly.

“Very limited housing creates challenges for our families,” she said.

However, “we hope to have a fairly stable enrollment in the upcoming school year,” she added.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].