Up to 45 teachers could get pink slips in Edmonds district

Assistant principals and paraeducators, too, may lose jobs as the schools face a $17.7 million hole.

EDMONDS — Faced with a projected $17.7 million budget hole for the next school year, the Edmonds School Board on Wednesday will consider a cost-cutting plan in which some teachers, assistant principals, and paraeducators could lose their jobs at the end of this school year.

As many as 45 classroom instructors would receive layoff notices under the proposal. School board members are expected to give their initial approval in a special 7 a.m. meeting. Of the potential staff cuts, roughly 30 are provisional status — meaning they are in their first three years in the district — and 15 are on continuing contracts.

In addition, the district is making plans to lay off at least eight elementary school assistant principals and slash hundreds of hours from paraeducators who aid teachers in classrooms, assist students with disabilities and staff day care programs.

Several vacant positions — including three custodians, one groundskeeper, a technology support specialist and a special education data processing specialist — would not be filled under the plan. And an estimated $2.5 million in expenses in the materials, supplies and operations budget, known as MSOC, would be eliminated.

Although actions by state lawmakers will increase funding for special education and allow higher collections in local property tax levies, it isn’t enough to plug the gap, Edmonds school leaders said.

“It’s unfortunate that, although the legislative action helped some, we are still faced with a $17.7 million shortfall. We have no other choice but to reduce staff,” Superintendent Kristine McDuffy wrote in an email.

If attrition exceeds estimates between now and August, she said they would look to call back laid-off employees for the 2019 school year, which begins Sept. 1.

The Edmonds teachers’ union opposed the layoffs and its leader warned it will result in larger classes, some exceeding 30 students.

“This is a very large number,” said Andi Nofziger-Meadows, president of the Edmonds Education Association. “We’ve taken the position that these cuts are unnecessary.”

The special board meeting will be held in boardrooms A and B of the Educational Services Center, 20420 68th Ave. W. in Lynnwood. Final action is slated for May 14, one day before a state-imposed deadline for notifying teachers they will receive pink slips.

Edmonds appears to be the only large school district in Snohomish County planning to lay off teachers due to financial issues.

Everett, Mukilteo, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Snohomish and Arlington school districts will not be sending layoff notices to teachers, according to officials. None are reporting cuts to the ranks of administrators or classified personnel either.

“We knew we would have some challenges going into next school year,” said Lydia Sellie, executive director of business and finance for the Edmonds School District.

Most of it stems from lawmakers’ response to the McCleary lawsuit in which the Supreme Court ruled that the state was not providing school districts with ample funding for basic education.

In search of money to cover the tab, the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee agreed to hike the statewide property tax in order to send a lot more revenue to districts. At the same time, lawmakers reduced how much districts could collect from local voter-approved property tax levies. This swap left districts with millions of fewer dollars to spend on programs and staff not deemed basic education and thus covered by the state.

It was a nearly $20 million hit for the Edmonds School District. The district will pull in $48 million in local funds this calendar year, down from $67.2 million in 2018.

As the district works to overcome the loss of those dollars, it’s incurred increased expenses from teacher pay hikes negotiated last year. And a new statewide health insurance program for educators will add even more costs in 2020.

“There was pressure and rightly so that McCleary was intended to provide compensation and districts did provide compensation increases,” Sellie said, adding that people should expect there will be “appropriately compensated people teaching our school children.”

Actions by lawmakers in the just-completed legislative session will bring in about $1 million more for special education, she said. And a decision to ease the cap on local levies a little will too, but not much for the 2019 school year, she said.

“They picked the scenario that helped us the least,” Sellie said. When everything is added up, the levy fix may improve the situation by about $500,000, she said.

Nofziger-Meadows said the raises aren’t to blame.

“We all agreed that the salaries we negotiated were reasonable and sustainable,” she said. “Something has happened between now and then to change the financial picture of the district. Districts around us are not doing this.”

Nofziger-Meadows said everyone knew there would be less money from local levies for the upcoming school year. She contended district officials crafted a balance sheet using too conservative a prediction of future enrollment. Since the district receives money per student, it resulted in a lower estimate of future revenues prompting deeper than necessary reductions.

Next year’s budget will be drawn up by early July. Sellie said there are still financial unknowns which could alter the number of layoffs.

“It could definitely end up being lower,” she said. “At this point we tend to have to assume the worst.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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