Sequim School Board mulls $2 million in cuts

SEQUIM — Sequim Superintendent Rob Clark anticipates having to cut about $2 million from the school district’s approximately $41.6 million budget for the 2020-21 academic year.

Clark presented a modified version of his budget plan, with cuts that are less severe than originally expected, to board directors Monday.

“This is better than it was two weeks ago, but it is still unpleasant,” Clark said.

The reductions, he noted, are drawn from across the district and including from the budgets for supplies, extra- and co-curricular activities, travel costs and technology as well as from personnel positions in the custodial, transportation and special education departments.

The biggest cuts by dollar figure are from basic education — $700,000 that would pay for about eight teaching positions — along with 15 paraeducators (teacher and school assistants), saving the district $450,000.

“If we need to cut $2 million (from the budget) the majority of that has to come from salaries,” Clark said at the board workshop.

While the board doesn’t have to approve a budget plan for the 2020-21 academic year until August, the district needs to notify staff of their employment status by mid-May.

Clark’s projected cuts dropped from his April 13 proposal by about $600,000 after the district saw some staff give notice of resignations, retirements or temporary leaves.

That includes the retirement of Mark Willis, administrator for Olympic Peninsula Academy and former Sequim Middle School principal and Sequim High assistant principal, whose position will not be replaced, Clark said.

He also noted that some Sequim staffers are looking to get hired on at other districts, which could affect the total number of staff positions to be eliminated.

While some of those positions can be filled internally or absorbed into other jobs, the district will likely need to make some hires depending on staff being certified for those roles.

Sequim administrators are projecting a drop in enrollment of about 36 students from March 2020 to the start of next school year — and a drop of about 125 students from what the district budgeted in 2019-20.

The school district’s funding is largely dependent on student enrollment.

“Until we know what the start of school looks like it’s hard to make any projections,” Clark said Monday.

“We could have some more turnover (and) enrollment is still a little bit of a mystery,” he said.

Board members will be asked to consider adopting a resolution for staff reductions at their May 11 regular meeting — the board was scheduled to meet Monday but board members agreed to push back the meeting one week — with notices delivered to staff by May 15.

The majority of the projected staff cuts come from the paraeducator pool. Clark said the number was drawn from the first-year hires at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. The cuts will disproportionately affect elementary schools, which have a higher proportion of paraeducators, he said.

Greywolf Principal Donna Hudson, who gave a school improvement program report Monday night, said, “when you hear about losing staff members, it’s not what any principal wants to hear. That being said, we all have to do what is good for the district.”

The elementary school went to a seven-period day in 2019-20, which helped reduce some staffing figures, Hudson said.

Clark noted that they would be first in line for rehiring if the budget figures are more promising.

Board member Eric Pickens said he’s concerned about cutting staff, particularly in a time of economic uncertainty.

“I can’t think of a worse time, given everything that’s happening,” he said Monday. “My biggest concern is really making sure that this is absolutely necessary.”

Fewer staff means larger class sizes, he said.

Pickens asked about the possible downside to using district general funds to keep staff in place for another year, and issuing reduction-in-force (RIF) notices before mid-May 2021.

Clark said the general fund balance would dip below $1 million — a dangerous place to be, he said, considering the uncertainty of not only the 2020-21 school year but the following academic year, coupled with uncertainty around local taxpayers’ ability to pay their property taxes.

“I think the biggest hangup for me in not RIFing anybody and trying to make it is the May 15 deadline,” Clark said Monday.

“I do believe we will have some (staff) movement but we won’t have the movement until after May 15.

“I’m obligated to put forth the best and most realistic budget.”

“We can’t continue to lay off staff,” said board member Brian Kuh. “Real quick, we’re going to be bumping up against class size limits (and) building capacity limits.”

Board directors agreed to move their May meetings to the second and fourth Mondays — rather than first and third — in May.

See www.sequimschools.org or call 360-582-3260 for more information.

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Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspaper Peninsula Daily News. Reach him at [email protected].

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