Lake Stevens school chiefs freeze their own pay

LAKE STEVENS — Administrators and principals in the Lake Stevens School District have decided to freeze their salaries for a year to save money and, hopefully, jobs.

With Washington state lawmakers slashing school spending and an expected decline in student enrollment, Lake Stevens administrators anticipate cutting at least $2.1 million from the district’s $70.7 million budget this summer. They are considering layoffs, trimming programs and eliminating services.

Cash-strapped districts throughout the state face similar challenges.

“It became pretty apparent we’re going to have to be making some pretty deep cuts,” said district spokeswoman Arlene Hulten, who is part of the group that voted for a salary freeze. “It was felt that this was the appropriate thing to do — to freeze our salaries so any monies that could be saved from that could go to staff salaries and student programs.”

Around 40 principals, directors and administrators voted unanimously last week to suspend pay raises starting in July. It’s unclear how much money the freeze will save, Hulten said.

The district is also leaving five administrative positions empty to save $500,000.

In the 12 years John Gebert has been a principal in the Lake Stevens School District, he’s never dreaded budget time so much. The senior member of the district’s leadership team can’t recall another year when the team voted for a pay freeze.

“It’s not a decision made lightly,” said Gebert, principal at Cavelero Mid High School. “We have some administrators who have young families and are the sole breadwinner. Absolutely, it was a difficult decision.”

The district is scheduled to begin contract negotiations with teachers this spring. It’s too early to tell what kind of sacrifices teachers may be asked to make, Hulten said.

The district is not considering closing schools, but layoffs may be unavoidable, she said.

“When we got our staffing numbers and realized that many of us, if not most of us, in the buildings are going to be losing staff, it was a motivation to do whatever we could in our power to hopefully help the situation,” Gebert said.

Administrators in a few other Washington school districts have voted to freeze wages, but Lake Stevens is likely the first in Snohomish County, Hulten said.

Members of the school board appreciated the decision. The board is scheduled to make the final decisions regarding budget cuts this summer.

“Every little bit helps,” school board president Mari Taylor said. “Like every school district, we’re looking at some kind of scary times ahead and the possibility of some pretty deep cuts. Whatever we can do to mitigate that ahead of time, I’m all for.”

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