PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School District’s Board of Directors has approved cuts to address the $2.6 million deficit projected for next year.
As Superintendent Martin Brewer made his recommendation of cutting 21.68 full-time equivalent employees and reducing paraeducators by 72 hours per day, he told the school board Thursday the cuts are a result of the state Legislature’s “levy swap” that cut the district’s $9 million levy in half.
“It’s important to note that the necessary steps to reduce the budget have not been at fault of this school district,” Brewer said.
“We all know in this room that the state funding solution for the McCleary decision and the levy swap simply does not work for districts like ours.
“That is our reality and we have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this district to balance our budget.”
He said the district is closely watching what the Legislature does to address funding education.
The current legislative session was set to end at midnight Sunday and as of Sunday afternoon the House and Senate had both passed competing bills that would raise the levy lid, but had not reached a compromise.
Brewer has said he does not believe the local levy should increase, but he feels the state should more fully fund basic education, which he said should include special education.
Brewer said of the $4.5 million raised by the enrichment levy, about $1.5 million goes to music education, $1 million for sports and another $1 million goes to funding special education. The other million goes to counseling and other services that support students.
“Special education is not fully funded by the state of Washington, and a political statement: it should be,” Brewer said. “It’s basic education of our children. It’s not an enrichment, it’s basic education of our children.”
The reduction in educational programs for next year was approved unanimously. Director Sandy Long was out of state and did not attend the meeting.
The resolution gives the district time to notify all certificated employees who are losing their jobs by May 15, as required by state law.
The cuts are across the board and aimed to minimize impacts on students, Brewer said.
The cuts include 4.75 FTE reductions in administrative support personnel, 1.5 FTE reductions in school-based office professionals, two drug/alcohol interventionist positions, 72-hours-per-day in reductions to para educators and 13.43 FTE of certificated instructional staff.
“I’m proud to say we have been able to maintain all services, with the exception of one program that would be eliminated,” he said, referring to the drug/alcohol interventionists. “Outside of that we have been able to maintain services for students.”
He said a reduction of 5 FTE in instructional staff will mean an increase is class sizes by about two to four students each, depending on grade.
Brewer said there has been a lot of conversation in the community recently about how the reduction in force would affect the music program. He said no music teacher positions have been eliminated.
“We have 13 music teachers in the district this year and we will have 13 music teachers next year,” Brewer said in an interview Wednesday. “Our board and this administration stood behind this program.”
Parents received an email from the district April 17 that said high school choir teacher Jolene Dalton Gailey and high school orchestra teacher James Ray would each teach one section at Stevens Middle School at the end of their days, but by Thursday that decision had changed.
Brewer said Gailey will spend a full day at the high school and Ray will teach one section at Stevens Middle School in the morning before spending the remainder of his day at the high school.
Long and Director Bill Kindler both said Wednesday they had received emails from community members concerned about the change.
“There have been a lot of conversation in our community this week about music and, I’ll be honest, those conversations disappoint me,” Brewer told the board. “This board and this administration stood behind the music program and as you can clearly see there are no reductions in the music program.
“Rather than the community criticize, I think the community should be complimenting the board and this administration.”
Brewer said another priority has been to maintain the number of guidance counselors available to students. The district has more counselors than are funded by the state.
“We have invested the dollars to make sure that every building has a full-time counselor,” he said. “That comes at a cost.”
Port Angeles High School junior and Peninsula College Running Start student Raven Sharpe was the only person to speak during public comment.
Sharpe, who participates in the chamber orchestra and the bella voce choir at the high school, thanked Brewer and the board for the time the district spent talking with students and staff.
“Thank you for standing behind the music program and supporting us,” Sharpe said. “Sometimes the public doesn’t see that, but I do see that.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].