Sequim Schools to cut staffing

District also eliminates assistant superintendent post

SEQUIM — The Sequim School Board has unanimously approved cutting the equivalent of 11 staffers for the 2022-2023 school year, including eliminating the position of an administrator who has filed complaints against the district.

The board took the action at a special meeting late Friday afternoon in light of enrollment reduction of some 240 students, leading to loss of some $2 million in state revenue, according to interim Superintendent Joan Zook.

“It’s driven by a serious financial need … to maintain financial stability,” Zook told the board.

The resolution cuts the equivalent of 5.5 full-time certificated instructional staff positions, a group that includes teachers, created through attrition — two positions specifically reduced from the Alternative Learning program, by reassigning staff to other openings — plus another four full-time classified staffers, also created through attrition, and the equivalent of half of the district’s principal of alternative programs position.

It also eliminates the district’s assistant superintendent position, which is currently held by Jennifer Maughan.

Maughan has been on administrative leave since September 2021. The district took that action after Maughan filed a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Commission (HRC) and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging acts of discrimination and retaliation against her by then-interim Superintendent Jane Pryne, according to attorney Shannon McMinimee. Pryne has since resigned.

“This resolution will cost the district far more in a lawsuit for retaliation against a whistleblower,” said Sheena Younger during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Saying that the district was going down a “very dark financial path,” she commented that “I guarantee you the person most excited by this resolution is Jennifer’s attorney.”

Comment from McMinimee was sought on Sunday via email, but no response had been received in by deadline.

District officials didn’t provide board members with details on how much cuts would save on Friday, but Zook said more cuts are likely the following year since federal ESSER (federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds won’t be available.

The district is shifting $1.8 million in ESSER funds to balance the budget, and it is looking at cutting $4 million from the budget in 2023-2024 if enrollment doesn’t return to pre-pandemic levels.

“We are not the only district [in this situation]; all 295 districts in the state of Washington are in this process right now,” board director Jim Stoffer noted, referring to a workshop conducted on Wednesday with Olympic Educational Service District (OESD) 114 officials.

“It is prudent for us to take some necessary … steps and to look forward into those remaining years,” he said.

“We truly don’t know at this point if our enrollment will come back,” Stoffer said. “This is where we’re at.”

Zook said there may be further cuts to overall classified staff positions; Friday’s meeting was held well before the district’s budget-crafting finalization process later this year because reduction-in-force notices to certified staffers must be sent out by May 15.

“We will work and continue to identify where there will be other savings,” Zook said.

Some of those classified positions simply may go unfilled next school year, she said.

Sequim school officials in recent weeks have discussed cuts to the budget as the district’s general fund balance has dwindled to the point that — as OESD officials noted two days prior — the district may not be able to pay its staffers.

Saralyn Pozernick, vice president of the Sequim Education Association, said in an email in late April that the union is working with district office personnel on the staffing issue.

“We are hopeful we can come to a mutually agreeable solution,” she wrote.

Darlene Apeland, the district’s director of Business Operations and Finance, said in a previous meeting that about 82 percent of the school district’s $48 million budget goes to salaries and benefits of the approximate 446 employees, while payroll spending is about $3 million each month. (The remaining expenditures are toward supplies, materials, curriculum, technology upgrades, utilities, contracted services, travel and other fees.)

School districts in Washington state receive the majority of their revenue based on student enrollment, apportioned from the state. The school district has about 2,440 full-time equivalent (FTE) students as of April 2022 — down 260 students from about 2,700 FTEs in April 2019.

The 10-percent drop in enrollment didn’t coincide with a cut to employee levels, district officials said, as they had hoped to maintain their staff through the pandemic. But the district saw enrollment rebound only slightly last year, and project lower enrollment once again in 2022-2023.

“I think we need to assume our enrollment is going to stay low,” Sequim School Board director Larry Jeffryes said at the May 4 budget workshop.

“To hope for [a rise in enrollment] with our fingers crossed would be a huge mistake,” he added.

Monica Hunsaker, Assistant Superintendent of Financial Service with OESD 114, said Sequim’s general fund balance of 4.89 percent of its overall budget is the lowest balance, percentage-wise, in the region; the state average is 14.7 percent, she said.

“(This low mark) is going to cause cash flow issues for you,” she said.

Hunsaker recommended that Sequim school leaders transfer an additional $1.8 million in ESSER funds — federal funds allocated to school districts to offset the effects of the COVID pandemic — to help balance the budget and restore the district’s general fund balance.

The problem this would create, however, is that the district would need to prepare to cut about $4 million in programs the following year, because ESSER funds are one-time-only funding sources, she said.

”My recommendation (is to) reduce or cut anything in your budget you can,” Hunsaker said. “Four million is really big number; it’s 10 percent of your budget.”

“ESSER [funding] has helped a lot in some instances,” OESD superintendent Greg Lynch told board directors, “but it’s all one-time money. Any sort of reductions you can do now will reduce those reductions later on. You’re going to be left with some pretty difficult decisions in the next 12 months.”

Regan Nickels, Sequim’s incoming superintendent whose first day is in mid-July, said at the May 4 meeting that she would like to see a three-year plan to trim that $4 million out of the Sequim School District’s budget.

“It’s a hard way to step into a community when you say you’ve got to make reductions,” Lynch said of Nickels’s introduction to Sequim.

“The conversations really need to start this summer,” Lynch said, urging school district officials to connect with the community.

“No matter what reductions you make, you’re going to have some upset people.

“This work ahead is not for the feint of heart.”

________

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].

Peninsula Daily News Executive Editor Leah Leach contributed to this story.

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