Edmonds School Board considering teacher layoffs to address $17.7 million shortfall

Edmonds School Board Vice-President Deborah Kilgore and Board President Diana White listen as Superintendent Kris McDuffy explains the efforts of district staff to balance the budget for the 2019-20 school year.

The Edmonds School District Board of Directors held a special meeting early Wednesday morning to discuss ways to address a projected $17.7 million shortfall in the upcoming 2019-20 school year, including teacher and staff layoffs.

As of the Wednesday, May 8 meeting, 43 full-time employees (FTEs) of the district labeled as certificated or classified potentially face being laid off, district staff said. Affected positions include teachers, paraeducators and assistant principals. More than half the employees facing layoffs are provisional status — meaning they are in their first three years of working for the district.

Since January, the school board has worked to find solutions for the expected budget shortfall. Unlike the neighboring Everett, Snohomish, Mukilteo, Lake Stevens, Marysville and Arlington school districts, the Edmonds School District is the only district facing layoffs. Superintendent Kris McDuffy said the prospect of layoffs is tough, but because 88 percent of the district’s budget is employee salaries and benefits, there are few other options.

“It’s been excruciating for everybody,” she said. “We’ve been looking under every rock and examining every line item.”

Because the Washington State Legislature last year reduced the amount of money school districts could collect from voter-approved property tax levies, the Edmonds School District suffered a near $20 million loss, said Executive Director of Business and Finance Lydia Sellie. In 2018, the district collected more than $67 million, but in 2019 only $47 million was levied, she said.

School Board President Diana White noted that some people have suggested that the pay raises received by Edmonds School District teachers in 2018 contributed to the current budget issue.

“I hear that a lot — that the reason we’re in this (shortfall) is because of the raises we gave,” she said. “But that’s not really true.”

In addition to staff reductions to address the deficit, the board of directors will avoid filling multiple vacant positions, including three custodians, one groundskeeper, a special education data-processing specialist and a technology support specialist. The budget would also cut $2.5 million in expenses for materials, supplies and operations budget and slash more than 300 daily hours for paraeducators.

However, much is still to be determined before the new school year, Superintendent McDuffy said. No final decision will be made on the plan until the board of directors votes at the May 14 school board meeting. Should the layoffs become a reality, affected faculty will know the following day.

“This is evolving by the hour, literally,” she said.

Before casting their votes at the May 14 meeting, the school board directors have several variables to consider — including employees who are resigning or retiring, future student enrollment, the number of students per classroom and the number of teachers required to teach those students. According to data collected by district staff, enrollment for the coming school year is not projected to increase, Sellie said.

“The state funds employees based on the number of students the district has,” she said.

Should more students enroll in the district than schools can accommodate with projected staffing needs, Sellie said, the school board could tap additional funding to bring in more teachers. Board Vice-President Deborah Kilgore said she was not sure the board should project a decline in student enrollment, which would result in more cuts due to the need for fewer teachers.

“We’re turning people’s lives upside down,” she said.

Board Director Anne McMurray said she would like more community feedback before voting on the proposed plan at the school board’s next meeting.

“As we’re thinking about this, we need to remember how the community as a whole views their investment,” she said. “

The next Edmonds School Board meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s Educational Services Center, located at 20420 68th Ave. W., Lynnwood.

—Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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