Fewer teachers received pink slips than was feared by students, teachers and parents after this emotion-packed Edmonds School Board meeting last May. (Zachariah Bryan / Herald file)

Fewer teachers received pink slips than was feared by students, teachers and parents after this emotion-packed Edmonds School Board meeting last May. (Zachariah Bryan / Herald file)

Layoffs and larger classes help Edmonds solve fiscal problem

School board approved plan that counts on spending cuts and reserves to erase a projected shortfall.

EDMONDS — Leaders of Edmonds public schools have approved a balanced budget for the next school year, plugging a $17.7 million hole with layoffs, larger classes, belt-tightening and a small withdrawal of reserves.

Directors of the Edmonds School District passed the one-year, $343.4 million spending plan on a 4-0 vote Aug. 13. It takes effect Sept. 1, a few days before roughly 20,000 students return for classes in Snohomish County’s largest school district.

Passage came three months after an emotion-packed board meeting in which directors agreed to send layoff notices to nearly three dozen teachers, the linchpin of a broader cost-cutting effort to deal with the shortfall.

Though fewer teachers wound up receiving pink slips, and many who did have since been recalled or landed teaching jobs elsewhere, the overall financial picture changed little, said Lydia Sellie, executive director of business and finance.

“People wish that it had improved more and so do I,” she said. “I believe that people were hopeful that the Legislature or some other body would make a move to provide additional funds. Disappointingly, no money came in.”

Directors had to make difficult choices because the state hasn’t fully stepped up to fund public schools, said director Carin Chase.

“I am mindful of the importance of setting budget priorities and I know the Edmonds School District was shorted by the state Legislature,” she wrote in an email. “I look forward to the time when education is prioritized as a Paramount duty as mandated by our state constitution.”

The district encountered fiscal challenges in spite of the state’s recent actions to drive billions of additional dollars to public schools as required by the state Supreme Court.

Lawmakers hiked the statewide property tax in 2017 in order to increase the amount of money districts receive from the state. At the same time, they imposed a lower limit on how much districts could collect from local property tax levies. This caused Edmonds to lose out on $20 million of voter-approved tax receipts in 2018. The district used reserves to offset some of that loss.

During its 2019 session, the Legislature, in response to appeals from districts, did boost funding for special education and raise the cap on local levy collections. While those will produce additional revenue for Edmonds in the next 12 months, it will not be enough.

Sellie laid out the significant pieces of the financial puzzle in a power point presentation to the board Aug. 13.

There are three major pieces accounting for the shortfall. The district will lose out on an estimated $6.2 million from its voter-approved local levy. Teacher pay hikes negotiated last year will cost about $7.8 million in the coming budget year.

And a state mandate for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade takes effect this year. To comply, Edmonds will spend $1.25 million to hire 10 elementary teachers.

To offset those expenses, the board expects to save $5.7 million through layoffs and larger class sizes. There will be an average of two to three more students in classes in grades 4 through 12, Sellie said.

The district anticipates receiving roughly $5.6 million from the state for special education, transportation, teacher salaries and professional development. Sellie budgeted an increase of $900,000 from a higher-than-expected enrollment last school year.

The final budget assumes spending $1.9 million less in the career and technical education program, trimming $1.4 million from department budgets and using $1.2 million in reserves, Sellie said.

The final tally of teacher layoffs is not yet clear.

Initially, layoff notices went to a total of 19.9 full-time equivalent positions, which is roughly two dozen full- and part-time instructors. As of this week 11.5 of those FTEs had returned or been recalled, said district spokeswoman Harmony Weinberg. Another 2.2 FTEs had resigned or been removed from the recall pool.

One reason for the fluctuation is retirements. The number of planned retirements as of mid-May was down significantly from previous years. Had there been the typical number, it could have allowed the board to avoid sending out any layoff notices, Sellie said.

Some English and social studies teachers had not been recalled as of Thursday, said Andi Nofziger-Meadows, president of the Edmonds Education Association.

Some won’t be coming back because they got hired by neighboring districts, Nofziger-Meadows wrote in an email.

And she expressed concern that decisions in this year’s budget could make the district less able to recruit and retain teachers in the future.

”I fear that we will feel the ripple effects of the unnecessary staff cuts and resulting class size increases for several years,” she said.

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

Correction: An earlier version had a number that was updated after the story was published.

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