PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School District has sent notices to 18 employees who are facing layoffs as the district looks to save $2.6 million next year.
Superintendent Martin Brewer said Monday that the district has worked with all bargaining groups — with the exception of the paraeducators — as the district prepares for a reduction in force next year.
The district has until May 15 to send notices to teachers, and notices must be sent to classified staff 30 days prior to termination.
“We are committed to making sure that we treat our employees as respectfully as possible during this process so early notification is important,” Brewer said. “We’re having face-to-face conversations with each employee and that’s what we’re in the process of carrying out.”
Brewer declined to say how many total employees are facing layoffs during the reduction in force, but said that early retirements and resignations have decreased that number. If more employees resign or retire the number of employees at risk of losing their jobs will go down.
He said the hope is to talk to all affected employees by the end of the week and said that he can’t say how many positions will be cut until then.
“We’ll have some harder numbers to chew on later in the week,” he said.
The Port Angeles School Board passed a resolution Feb. 14 to direct the superintendent to reduce staff amid funding cuts under the “McCleary fix,” also known as the levy swap.
The new local levy cap of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which took effect in January, represents a nearly 40 percent decrease in local levy funds to the Port Angeles School District, officials said.
After balancing the 2018-19 budget by cutting nearly $1 million in operational expenses, school administrators have spent the past three months grappling with an estimated $2.6 million — or 5 percent — budget reduction for the 2019-20 school year.
The state Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to fully fund basic education under the McCleary decision.
Approved by lawmakers in 2017 and adjusted last year, the bipartisan McCleary fix provided more than $1 billion in new funding for basic education and raised teacher salaries.
It also capped local levies at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $2,500 per full-time student, whichever is less.
The compromise disproportionately impacts districts with relatively low land values and higher levies, Brewer said. While the district saw an overall increase in funds it saw its voter-approved levy cut in half.
Last year, the district agreed to add $1.6 million to the teachers’ salaries after educators demanded raises in response to the McCleary fix, but Brewer said it’s the levy swap that has had the biggest impact on the budget.
“What’s not working is the swap concept,” Brewer said. “It just doesn’t work well for our district and that’s the position and the story of the school district.”
The district’s board of directors discussed budget priorities during a work session Thursday, where all present agreed that the reduction in force should not reduce resources available to students who have suffered some sort of trauma.
“What I do worry about is the social and emotional welfare of our kids throughout the district,” said Director Dr. Josh Jones.
Director William Kindler said he believes that students at Dry Creek Elementary need more support than at other schools and questioned whether the district should put more resources in the school.
“We know we have this in all of our schools, but it’s particularly prevalent at Dry Creek,” he said. “As I stand back and look at our priorities, helping these young people to get back on a path where they can break that cycle is important.”
After the discussion the board agreed that while it shouldn’t boost resources at this time, it shouldn’t cut those resources either.
As the district has prepared for the reduction in force school officials had hoped that the state Legislature would pass a bill to better fund special education, Brewer said.
He said the district is using about $800,000 from levy enrichment funds to fund special education across the district. If the bill had passed there would potentially have been fewer cuts, he said.
State Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, said in a text message that the house bill addressing special education did not make the cut this session and that he does not expect it to get a vote.
Brewer said he believes funding special education should be considered part of “basic education” and that the state should adequately fund special education.
“We’re spending all of our state and federal resources and dipping into our local levy to make ends meet,” Brewer said. “My position is that special education funding is basic education and is the paramount duty of the state.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].