Edmonds School Board restores some positions targeted by budget cuts

High school student musicians from across the district play outside the Edmonds School District’s administration building.

After hearing passionate protests from students, parents and staff during its last two board meetings, the Edmonds School Board April decided April 25 to use unassigned fund balance to reduce the number of staff positions targeted for elimination as part of the 2023-24 budget.

As many of the proposed budget cuts were set to impact school music programs, the Mountlake Terrace High School’s Music Boosters organized a student concert of high school musicians districtwide outside the district’s administrative headquarters, with students playing for an hour until the meeting began. They continued through the duration of the four-hour meeting, at one point prompting a request from Edmonds School Board Vice President Deborah Kilgore to play more quietly as she was  unable to hear speakers.

Protesters carried signs supporting music programs.

Speakers from every corner of the district asked the board to reconsider how the $15 million in proposed cuts were distributed in the 2023-24 budget. The proposed reductions removed student intervention coordinators, replaced certificated special education paraeducators with less specialized staff and cut a number of teaching positions among other reductions. With several hundred hours’ worth of classes being eliminated in music and career and technical education classes, class sizes will increase to accommodate more students. In addition, other courses with lower enrollment may be cut. 

Teachers and students alike began crying during public comment as they shared their distress over the situation. One Meadowdale High School student had to be escorted from the podium midway through her comments. 

Katherine “Kat” Webb spoke about how cuts to early special education would backfire and be more costly in the long run.

Katherine “Kat” Webb, a special education teacher at Alderwood Early Childhood Center, talked about the importance of early and qualified intervention in early special education. 

“Preschool is the time when we can make the biggest impact and get the biggest return on investment for our students. Early intervention is proven to work and is the best chance of students either exiting special education altogether or being able to access the curriculum and education they will need to succeed in school and life.” Webb continued. “We are offering them less than they deserve.”

During last week’s board meeting, public comment lasted five hours. This week, due to board-imposed testimony limits, the public comment period took about an hour and 20 minutes.

Between last week’s meeting and this one, district representatives said they pored over ways to minimize cuts. Superintendent Rebecca Miner also stated her intention to present a proposal to the Lynnwood City Council that will ask the city to fund additional mental health programming for Lynnwood schools. Other local governments are also in conversation with the board. 

When it came time to discuss and then vote on the Reduced Education Plan — board members empathized with the speakers, describing their own children’s experiences in band classes and the impact those classes had on their children’s’ wellness. Board members said that music and CTE classes were not being targeted by the district, and that school administrators would decide what types of reductions they would make at each school.

Board President Nancy Katims attends via Zoom as she recovers from COVID-19.

Board President Nancy Katims motioned to accept the Reduced Education Plan but added a amendment that the board use money from the district’s unassigned fund balance to reduce the number of overloaded classrooms. 

The estimated unassigned ending fund balance for the 2023-24 school year was already projected to be below 4%, a goal mandated by district guidelines. Katims asked that the board consider lowering this to 3% with a statement acknowledging the breach of protocol and intent to replenish the funds in the next school year. 

Accounting staff and board members were concerned about the clause to replenish funds as the district estimated an additional $8 million in reductions next year, so replenishing the funds would exacerbate the following year’s shortfall. The clause was modified to a more-general statement that the district would present a plan on replenishment in the future.

Board member Carin Chase agreed with the concept and requested that the unassigned ending fund balance be drawn down to 2.5%. The fund balance is not solid and the actual amount that is moved to the balance can vary when unexpected expenditures lower the budget more than planned. As a result, this number was rejected and negotiations on the figure continued for an hour and a half.

Initially, the plan was to remove a maximum of 46.55 certificated FTE teachers. FTE stands for full-time equivalent, so it does not reflect the number of individual staff as some may have agreements that are less than a full 1.0 contract.

Board member Carin Chase advocated for taking funds from the unassigned funds balance.

In the end, the board amended the resolution to allow the district to decrease fund balance to 2.75% percent of expenditures. The board then directed that those funds be used to add 14.5 certificated teaching FTE to minimize overloaded classrooms wherever possible, to reduce class sizes where most needed across the district. As a result, the proposal to cut 46.55 FTE hours became 32.05 FTE, though administrators are using this as a loss ceiling and are attempting to lower the number of reductions further as the cuts are still very substantial.

These one-time funds do not offset the $15 million budget deficit, but will allow the district to lower the amount of cuts occurring this year.

Seaview Elementary Students fielded questions from the board.

In other business, Seaview Elementary students and Principal Heather Pickar spoke about Seaview’s school improvement plan. Students answered board questions after a video played about the school, talking about its running club and tutoring relationships. The children designed friendship rocks to decorate their campus and gave the school board some. 

Pickar spoke about the school’s goal to improve literacy. She said the school’s initiative was already demonstrably showing results and anticipated further success.

Superintendent Rebecca Miner spoke about her entry plan.

Miner also presented her superintendent entry plan, which involved collecting and analyzing data around the district to understand and organize more efficiently. She stated that she would be meeting school staff, talking about their departments, hosting meetings and creating an open form that she could use to connect to community groups. After that, she will formulate a district plan and make her recommendations. 

–Story and photos by Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

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