Aberdeen school district closing in on layoffs

Emotions were high at Tuesday’s Aberdeen School Board meeting as the inevitability of layoffs for next school year becomes more apparent.

District Superintendent Alicia Henderson announced that out of a total of $3.5 million in recommended cuts to balance the budget for next year, $2.8 million would likely be in the form of staff reductions. Henderson said she wasn’t sure yet how many employees would be laid off and she didn’t break it down between teachers (the certified staff), administrators and non-certified employees, which include cooks, office workers paraeducators and others that don’t require specific professional certification. That $2.8 million would come from “attrition, retirement, and staff reductions in force” for 2019-20, the superintendent said.

District officials have said for months that a new state funding formula designed to increase teacher pay resulted in some districts, including Aberdeen, being worse off than before, which would mean significant layoffs that would be announced this spring for next school year.

In the fall, teachers received 18 percent raises.

The district needs to cut 2 percent from its budget for the remainder of this school year and 7 percent for next, Henderson said.

Tuesday night the board approved a resolution directing Henderson to create a “reduced educational program,” which would include other reductions along with staffing cuts. During the public comment period, a district staff member and a student parent criticized the board members for not spending time before passing the resolution to discuss alternatives or concerns about laying off teachers.

“I’m disappointed in something so major of making a resolution for a reduction in force that there was absolutely no comment from the board … of even looking at alternatives,” said district therapist Tina Palmer. “It’s like (Henderson) is feeding you information and you’re just going with it. That’s sad to me.”

Earlier this year the board approved a bond sale to borrow $2.5 million for improvements at Miller Junior High School.

Palmer asked why the plan couldn’t be put on hold and the money used to reduce layoffs, but Henderson said the money has to be used for the reason stated when it was borrowed and can’t go to pay employees.

Another audience member interjected after Henderson’s final comments, and said she felt offended by the board moving to approve a resolution without discussion.

“There were a lot more comments about what date we’re going to do (for the next meeting) than there was about a reduction in force. I find that offensive,” she said.

The board plans to consider the resolution for Henderson to create the reduced program at a board workshop Saturday and then take up Henderson’s recommendations at its board meeting April 16.

Board President Sandra Bielski responded to the audience comments by saying the community should direct its concerns and criticism to legislators for the new funding model.

“The concern in this room really, really needs to go to the Legislature, and ask why they have decided to compare us here in the Aberdeen School District to the other districts like Bellevue, those places that have more money,” said Bielski. “I get really heated about this subject because the Legislature did it to so many districts across the state, and they are unwilling to look, come down here, and see what our student populations are like.”

After the meeting, several board members could be seen crying and comforting each other in response to the tense meeting and the audience’s criticism of the board.

The rest of the proposed reductions for next year included $306,000 in material supplies and operating costs, which includes things like technology, curriculum, electric bills, repairs, and paper and pencils, and $394,000 in reductions from district initiatives.