By a 3-2 vote, the Edmonds School Board agreed to send layoff notices to 25 teachers as part of its plan to address a $17.7 million shortfall for the 2019-20 school year.
“This is the hardest it’s been in 50 years of education funding,” said Board President Diane White.
The board vote came just before the state-mandated May 15 deadline for notifying district staff that they may lose their jobs during the upcoming school year. Board Member Carin Chase and Board Vice-President Deborah Kilgore voted against the staff reductions.
As a result, 25 teachers, two technology coaches and the full-time equivalent (FTE) of 8.5 elementary school assistant principals will be notified of layoffs Initial reports projected that 45 full-time employees would be laid off. Then, during a May 8 special meeting, the number was reduced to 43 FTEs.
Before approving the plan, the board of directors heard three hours of public testimony from district staff, students and parents opposing the budget cuts, which district officials said are “conservative” estimates.
Teachers cited concerns that the staffing reductions will result in larger class sizes, stating that such an increase would especially impact students with learning disabilities and those who speak English as a second language.
Students in Chase Lake Elementary School’s Consolidated Health Services program — which ensures students with life-threatening health issues are guaranteed an education — would be affected by the drastic cuts, said developmental kindergarten teacher Kelly Andrews.
“These students need frequent medical attention to make sure their basic needs are being met,” she said. “They require higher levels of attention to learn.”
Edmonds Education Association President Andi Nofziger-Meadows said the staff reductions are unnecessary and that the board should allow more leeway for a potential increase in student enrollment, which district officials do not expect to rise in the 2019-20 year.
“The budget presented is the ‘worst case scenario’ on every front,” she said. “They are not realistic and are adding unnecessary increases to the class-size ratio.”
Nick Wellington, an Edmonds-Woodway High School social studies teacher who could potentially lose his job, said he is disappointed in the district he grew up in.
“It’s been embarrassing to see our district singled out as the only district in Snohomish County to be struggling to meet the commitments you’ve made,” he said.
Unlike the neighboring Everett, Snohomish, Mukilteo, Lake Stevens, Marysville and Arlington school districts, the Edmonds School District is the only district facing layoffs.
The board agreed to vote only on the staffing decision in order to meet the state-mandated May 15 notification deadline. The board will reconvene at a later time to discuss other items like cutting $2.5 million in expenses for materials, supplies and operations budget and slashing more than 300 daily hours for paraeducators.
The Edmonds School District suffered a $20 million loss after the Washington State Legislature reduced the amount of money school districts can collect from voter-approved property-tax levies. In 2018, the district collected more than $67 million, but in 2019 only $47 million was levied.
Superintendent Kris McDuffy said people can expect to hear more updates as the board of directors continue to work until the budget is due in August.
“We are unfortunately recommending these reductions at this time,” she said. “But are remaining hopeful that some of the conservative reductions we’ve put forward will improve in the coming months.”
The current budget is not set in stone and the final budget depends on variables like the number of teachers retiring before the 2019-20 school year and the number of students who will enroll in the fall. If the district budget situation improves, staff members who have received layoff notices could be rehired.
“This has been evolving and changing hourly,” McDuffy said.
In other business, the school board heard a report from Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner on new, inclusive books in school libraries. New works feature characters who are LGBTQ, Asian American, African American, Native American, struggling with deep issues such as depression, anxiety or homelessness.
–Story and photos by Cody Sexton