New Aberdeen High School orchestra holds conducts a rehearsal in the choir room last year. (Thorin Sprandel/The Daily World)

New Aberdeen High School orchestra holds conducts a rehearsal in the choir room last year. (Thorin Sprandel/The Daily World)

Aberdeen schools restore music program

By Doug Barker

The Daily World

The Aberdeen School District has restored its music program for next school year after cutting most of it from the budget three weeks ago in expectation of a worst-case funding scenario because of COVID-19.

The district says it’s hopeful of restoring more positions and already plans to replace a medical career vocational program instructor who left for another job.

“We must continue to budget conservatively, but we have always stated if more and better information is developed, that our music, high school counselor and Skills Center programs are priorities,” Superintendent Alicia Henderson said in a statement.

In a statement, Henderson said the following positions will now be in the budget:

• Choir will be restored from 0.66 to full-time.

• Junior High music will be restored from 0.80 to full-time.

• Orchestra will be restored, thanks in part to outside funding and grants.

• One elementary music position will be restored.

At a school board meeting this week, Henderson reported that the district now has a fall enrollment commitment from the families of 60 more students, important because the state pays “basic education” expenses on a per student basis.

With remote learning hurdles, the district has had a hard time counting students and estimating enrollment for the fall. “The staff stepped up” and increased the number of families contacted, the superintendent said. In two weeks, the percentage of families reached went from 96.7 percent to 99.2, Henderson told the board. The latest push brings the estimated total to 3,067. That would be an additional $650,000 in next year’s budget.

In March, before the affects of the pandemic, the district was preparing a budget for 3,240 students, although it had begun to see signs of dropping enrollment.

In April, the School Board agreed to preliminary budget reductions of more than $6 million, which resulted in 49 teachers not being offered contracts for next year. Teachers have to be notified by May 15 if their contracts will be renewed, but solid revenue projections aren’t available until June. Teachers can be essentially laid off in May and get their jobs back before the next school year if there’s room in the budget.

The state’s funding formula puts Aberdeen at a disadvantage, and that, along with declining enrollment and uncertainty and expense related to COVID-19 are playing a role in the budget, said School Board President Sandra Bielski.

Criticism from the public over the cuts and the conservative budget outlook has been intense on social media and Bielski indicated that the board recognized it.

“Every school district is unique, and in our region, Aberdeen has always had enrollment that can fluctuate more severely than our neighbors,” she said. “While I hope we are not acting prematurely to this new information, the board has heard from our community that, if at all possible, restoring positions sooner, rather than later, is a risk they want us to take.”

The vacancy in the Medical Careers Program at the Skills Center will be filled. The previous instructor accepted a position at Grays Harbor College.

Henderson said that if the district gets more good news later this month based on tax collections from the county and state, more positions could be filled. She mentioned positions for counseling at the high school and the culinary program.

“And we know we will have a need for additional elementary school teachers,” Two elementary school vacancies will be filled, “and we are keeping an eye on our K-3 class sizes,” she added.

The district has posted a jobs notice to establish an elementary school teacher pool. Teachers who were released from their contracts are encouraged to apply and the pool will help to inform the district which teachers are interested in being brought back as openings occur, the district said.

“The strong direction from the School Board is to share with our staff and community what we hope to do in the coming weeks should the news be as positive as we hope,” Superintendent Henderson said.

Henderson she’s been asked whether the district is saving money for some things while the schools are closed to students. “The only area we have a savings is in heating,” she said, in the form of a $2,000 savings for propane. She said the water bill has gone up from $45,000 to $52,000 because there’s been so much cleaning.

The cost of providing school lunches has increased, she said, but CARES Act funding for COVID-19 relief will offset that, she said.

More information about the Aberdeen School District budget can be found at www.asd5.org including an FAQ page on the draft 2020-2021 budget. For more information, contact the Superintendent’s Office at (360) 538-2000.