SEQUIM — The Sequim School District is prepared to trim the equivalent of 11.2 certificated staff from current staffing levels.
The district has seen eight full-time equivalent (FTE) retirements, resignations and approved leave-of-absence notifications, so a little more than three full-time staff positions will need to be cut, Superintendent Rob Clark noted.
Reductions will come from all school levels, including elementary (4), special education (2.4), middle school (2.0), secondary (1.8) and administration (1).
Board members voted 4-1 May 11 to make the cuts. Board members Larry Jeffryes, Brian Kuh, Jim Stoffer and board president Brandino Gibson expressed reluctance in their affirmative votes Monday night while board director Eric Pickens voted against the recommendation.
“I know each one of our votes was on a fine line,” Gibson said.
Clark said the recommendation was based on projected funding for the 2020-21 school year and an expected decrease in student enrollment.
“Not making these cuts is … putting the district in a precarious financial situation,” Clark said. “I would not put forth this resolution if I did not think this was the right thing to do.”
The school district’s hand is forced in a way, Clark said, with the district having to notify certified staff (teachers and administrators) with a notice by May 15 if the district did not expect to retain their position.
“There are things that could happen in the next two months … that could impact this positively,” Clark said, well before the board is expected to pass the next school year’s budget in August.
Clark in mid-April recommended about $2.6 million in reductions to Sequim school’s education plan and revised that to about $2 million in reductions a couple of weeks later.
Since then, he said, levy collections have been better than staff had expected while the district received about $700,000 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
But the federal funding may come with requirements that have not yet been made clear, Clark said.
“Until I know the parameters of how we can spend that money and not spend that money, I’m hesitant to change boats in the middle of the stream of this,” he said.
“I’ve never received money from the federal government that didn’t have strings. What those strings are, I don’t know. I would be very hesitant to earmark those monies at this time.”
Pickens said either the CARES funding or money from Sequim’s general fund could cover the 3.2 FTE positions for the next school year, when more retirements, resignations and staff taking leave would absorb those position losses.
Clark said those staffing positions could cost the district between $250,000 and $300,000.
“If there’s any way of doing through attrition, that’s the first option,” Pickens said. “I appreciate Dr. Clark’s bringing it to us; it’s the right thing to do, given the situation with the budget.”
Monday’s recommendation dealt with certificated staff only; in previous educational plan modifications, Clark had recommended cutting 15 paraeducators and personnel position cuts to custodial and transportation departments as well.
Clark said he’s also concerned about what may happen in the fall, when staff are asked to come back to work. Some may not come back for health reasons.
“They have to think of themselves and their health,” Clark said.
“At the same time, from a financial standpoint as a district, there’s a financial impact,” he said, if the district is paying for a staffer to be excused and also pay for a replacement.
Jeffryes said he was voting for the recommended cuts but that it wasn’t an easy decision, a sentiment echoed by other board directors.
“I do feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “I don’t want to paint us into a corner that we’ll be sorry for.”
Jeffryes said he hopes to see the district be in a position to hire back those whose positions were cut.
“I don’t want to give them false hope, but we’re going to do everything we can,” he said.
“These are our teachers, our neighbors, our friends; that’s always tough … especially in a small community like ours. We are elected to monitor the financial stability of the district. This is a part of that.”
With concern over how students in secondary schools will be graded, the Seattle School Board on April 20 adopted a policy giving all high-school students either As or incomplete grades for the spring 2020 semester, in consideration of the hardships of remote learning.
Clark said Sequim and other districts are leaning toward a similar approach.
“We do not want to put our students at a disadvantage when they are competing for places at colleges and scholarships with other students,” he said.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].