Budget, staff cuts expected for Port Angeles School District

Superintendent lays out legislative priorities

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School District is being buffeted by a number of challenges that are not within its power to solve and can only be tackled at the state level, said Superintendent Marty Brewer as he warned of significant cuts to next year’s budget due to straitened finances that will most likely lead to cutbacks in staffing.

Brewer told the board at its Jan. 12 meeting it should be prepared for reductions when it receives a preliminary budget by the end of February. The goal, he said, was to have it in place before May 15, the deadline by which districts must notify employees of a reduction in force, so it could notify them as quickly as possible.

“We’ll take some time in March for a resolution in a very generic form to reduce staff and reduce force and program, and then start to execute the plan after a board resolution in April,” Brewer said.

“One factor that does slow us down a little bit is what happens with the Legislature. We really won’t know the results of the legislative session is until it ends [April 24].”

Inequities in how state money is apportioned, the increasing cost of employee benefits and a gap between what the district receives from the state for special education and what it spends have created a situation that is not sustainable, Brewer said.

The end of ESSER funding (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act), which the district used to maintain staffing levels through the COVID-19 pandemic, will have a significant impact, he said.

“We’re facing budget cuts like we’ve maybe never experienced before,” Brewer said at the Jan. 12 meeting. “It’s a state systems problem and there are some things that need to be addressed.”

Brewer identified five legislative priorities for the 2023 session that began Jan. 9: addressing regionalization, salary enhancements and fully funding employee benefits; fully funding special education; changing approval for capital bond measures; adjusting the property tax structure for education; and keeping timber tax revenue within communities.

Regionalization and the way in which the state calculates teacher pay have resulted in neighboring districts receiving proportionally more money than Port Angeles, which hurts students, Brewer said.

“They fund it based on an outdated model from 2010 or 2011 and doesn’t represent schools in 2023,” Brewer said. “To base it on a model that hasn’t had any adjustments in the last decade is a broken model.”

The $1 million a year the district pays for benefits also should be the responsibility of the state, he added.

Brewer said the state also should pick up the cost for special education. The state caps special education funding for districts at 13.5 percent of overall full-time student enrollment. Port Angeles’ special education enrollment is 17 percent, so the district must make up the difference.

“If a student qualifies for special education, the [state] Constitution says that’s a paramount duty of the state to be funded,” Brewer said. “If this state believes in equity, it’s time to step up because our most vulnerable population is not fully funded.”

Brewer would like to change approval for capital bond measures from 60 percent to a simple majority, the same as it is for levies. A 2015 capital bond to build a new high school failed with only 48.99 percent approval. The district plans to try again to pass a capital bond replace the high school in 2025.

“I’ve heard lawmakers tell me that if you worked hard to develop a relationship and a rapport with your community, they would support bonds and levies. That is not true,” Brewer said.

“Bonds and levies pass based on the economy of the region, and ours was hit particularly hard.”

Revising a property tax model in which Port Angeles receives less revenue from property taxes than other districts that have fewer students and continuing to deliver timber taxes to communities also would help alleviate financial pressures on schools, he said.

President Sarah Methner said she was mindful of the board’s careful navigation of supporting what was in the best interest of the district and avoiding the impression that it was “too political.”

However, she said, “There is nothing in my opinion political about advocating for our students, for our constituents, for our taxpayers and for our teachers.”

The list of the PASD legislative priorities can be found on its website at tinyurl.com/36zs9mhz.

The next board meeting will be Feb. 9 at Lincoln Center.

Also announced at the meeting is that the district on Jan. 19 will unveil its new website; it can be found at the same address: www.portangelesschools.org.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@soundpublishing.com.

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