Playground equipment stands empty at Central Elementary School in Hoquiam.

DAN HAMMOCK | GRAYS HARBOR NEWS GROUP Playground equipment stands empty at Central Elementary School in Hoquiam.

18 teachers cut as Hoquiam School District braces for funding decline

Uncertainty about school funding as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 18 Hoquiam School District teachers losing their jobs at the end of the school year.

The school board recently passed a “reduced educational program for 2020-21” resolution that reduced 18 full-time-equivalent “non-supervisory certificated employees.”

“Some staff are receiving a letter saying that the end of this school year is the end of their contract,” said Superintendent Mike Villarreal.

By state law, reduction in force decisions with certificated staff are required by May 15. With the likelihood of cuts in state funding, the district had to act now. The Aberdeen School District has said it will also make personnel cuts, but it has not yet released the numbers.

“We need to be financially sound and prudent,” said Villarreal. “We don’t want to get caught in the fall where we don’t have the money.”

Villarreal’s conversations with state sources indicate the state general budget could see cuts of $5 billion to $8 billion as the state recovers from coronavirus-related shutdowns. Cuts could be coming to state local effort assistance (LEA) funds, which go to some districts to offset funding disadvantages for low property values.

“We get about $1.6 million every year in LEA funding,” said Villarreal. At the recent school board meeting, he said, “they could cut 10% of that, or all of it, and we pay for salaries and programs out of those.”

The district’s cuts are proactive.

“We don’t know what our budgets are going to settle out to until the middle of June or even late into June,” said Villarreal. “Let’s say May, June comes and the budget forecast comes back and we realize we can hire back some of our staff, I look to do that based on skill set and budget. Our goal is to bring people back.”

The district also has some “natural retirements,” and those positions will not be filled, said Villarreal.

The 18 staff notified are considered “provisional.” As Villarreal explains it, these are either teachers in their first three years of teaching, or those who are in their first year of teaching in the Hoquiam School District. For example, if a person had 10 years’ experience working in the Aberdeen School District but was in his or her first year in the Hoquiam School District, that person would be considered provisional.

Villarreal is concerned the long-term forecast looks so grim. “I’ve heard people, different legislators and staff, say that this could be a 3-5-year tailspin,” said Villarreal. “This could be a 3-5-year storm, and my job is to weather the storm and keep as many people on the boat as possible.”

Reductions in classified staff could be coming, but aren’t certain.

“We won’t know that until we find out how much money we have when the budget comes back,” said Villarreal. “We pay our classified staff out of different pots of money and that hasn’t been settled yet.”

As the financial situation becomes more clear in June, more tough decisions will likely have to be made.

“We’ll take a close look at not only them – every department, everything we buy and use, contracted services, everything from every department,” said Villarreal. “We’ll see where we can tighten down and be most prudent.”

Exactly what the district will look like come next school year is unclear, but there will be changes.

“Will it look differently this fall? Yes it will,” said Villarreal at the last school board meeting. “If it means not doing this fun thing we used to do, we skip it for a year.” His intention is to work within the budget he is given and keep as many staff in jobs as possible while maintaining the educational programs as the budget allows.

Another funding concern comes from a drop in enrollment, the major determinate in how much state funding comes to the district.

“Enrollment is down 45-50 students,” said Villarreal. “Forty kids, that’s a lot of money. We had to give money back based on enrollment being down and all that compounds when you’re trying to be financially stable.”