LYNNWOOD — Dozens of teachers are being given pink slips this week, notifying them that they may not have a job next year with the Edmonds School District.
At least for now.
School leaders were required by state law to give notice to instructors by Wednesday. The night before, in an attempt to sway school board directors, people clad in union red swarmed the district headquarters’ auditorium, overflowing into the hallway and two other rooms hooked up with live video and audio feeds. About 60 teachers, parents and students testified for over three hours during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Just minutes before the clock struck midnight, board directors voted 3–2 to approve the layoffs, which total 25.2 full-time equivalent teacher positions — down from the 45 that was initially reported.
Board directors also moved to cut 8.5 full-time equivalent elementary school assistant principal positions, as well as two technology coaches.
Carin Chase and Deborah Kilgore opposed the motion.
Andi Nofziger-Meadows, president of the Edmonds Education Association, said 38 full- and part-time teachers will be affected, and according to a list she received all but six work at the district’s middle and high schools. The focus appears to be on English and social studies classrooms, she said.
“We’re disappointed that the school board didn’t take more definitive action to reduce or eliminate the layoffs permanently,” Nofziger-Meadows said.
The vote was part of the district’s Reduced Educational Plan, an attempt to close a $17.7 million budget hole through cutting staff and department spending. Board directors said they would take a closer look at the budget in the coming months and see if they can reverse some of the layoffs.
They put off making a decision on other parts of the reduction plan, which includes slashing hundreds of hours from paraeducators who aid teachers in classrooms, assist students with disabilities and staff day care programs.
The district is also proposing to leave several vacant positions unfilled, including three custodians, one groundskeeper, a technology support specialist and a special education data processing specialist. And the board wants to shave $2.5 million in spending from the materials, supplies and operations budget.
The district serves about 21,000 students in the Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and Woodway areas.
Teachers in limbo
Until a budget is approved this summer, some instructors are in limbo, unsure whether they will get their jobs back.
Christopher Tully-Doyle, who teaches at Lynnwood High School, told the board that he wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
“I don’t know if I’ll have a job next year, but chances are I won’t,” he said.
Because he was out sick Wednesday, he won’t know if he’ll get a pink slip until he goes back to work, he said in a text message. Even if he does get laid off, it’s possible that his position will be restored by the end of summer.
Tully-Doyle told the board that he’s grown weary in recent weeks. He said he’s been told at least five separate times that either he’s going to lose his job or he’s going to keep his job.
“This is not a way to make the district better, either next year or in the future, because why would anyone want to do this year after year?” he said.
Ashley Potter, a first-year teacher at Alderwood Middle School, said she has her dream job. But, she said, even if she doesn’t lose her position, she’s concerned about how the proposed budget cuts would affect her work.
“This is the first time education has let me down,” she said.
Many speakers said fewer teachers will only mean larger class sizes, which will harm students, particularly those with learning disabilities and those who speak English as a second language.
Sue Randall, who volunteers at Cedar Valley Community School, said she’s seen light bulbs go off for students in one-on-one interactions. She’s also seen firsthand how teachers can struggle with a busy classroom.
“How many fires does a teacher have to put out in a day? And yet you want to increase those fires,” she said.
Some at Tuesday’s meeting questioned the school’s financial projections. Nofziger-Meadows called the cuts “largely unnecessary,” and contended that the projected budget was too conservative. She said the district presented “the worst-case scenario on every front.”
Edmonds appears to be the only school district in Snohomish County planning to lay off teachers due to financial issues.
Its challenges are tied to a 2017 overhaul of the financing of public schools triggered by the McCleary lawsuit in which the Supreme Court found the state was not providing districts with ample funding for basic education.
Lawmakers increased the amount of dollars provided to education through a hike in state property taxes. At the same time, they imposed a lower limit on how much districts could collect from local levies. This caused Edmonds to lose out on $20 million of voter-approved tax receipts in 2018.
The district used nearly $3.9 million of its reserves to offset some of that loss in the 2017-18 school year.
Board director Gary Noble said they spent that money to keep smaller classrooms, with hopes of future financial relief.
Relief never arrived.
“We lost that bet,” he said.
During its recently concluded 2019 session, the Legislature, in response to appeals from districts, did boost funding for special education and raise the cap on local property tax collections. But those moves won’t produce enough additional revenue to resolve the problem, Edmonds school leaders have said.
Plus, the district has 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.
The number of retirements is also significantly down from previous years, district leaders said at the meeting. They’re hoping a few more trickle in before they finish drafting the budget.
“These are certainly trying times, but together we will find a way forward,” Superintendent Kristine McDuffy wrote in a statement on the district website.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.