21 teachers impacted in Aberdeen School District cuts

Cuts to non-certified positions still needed to reach $3.5M spending reduction goal

At a board meeting Tuesday, Aberdeen School District officials unveiled part of the plan to reduce staff and cut spending by $3.5 million for next school year, while other necessary cuts are still under consideration and not yet public information, according to district superintendent Jeffrey Thake.

Thake said he and district Human Resources director Christi Sayres on May 4 informed 21 Aberdeen School District teachers their contracts would not be renewed for the 2023-2024 school year.

Of the 21 affected positions for certified employees, four were current-year-only contracts, which were already scheduled to end after the 2022-2023 school year; eight were “involuntary transferred,” forced to leave their current position in lieu of another with the district; seven were cut completely and two people resigned. In addition to those 21, four other positions will be cut by way of attrition — when a district leaves vacant the position of any employee who plans on leaving anyway.

That leaves the district with about 210 certified staff, Thake said.

Thake said the district was contractually obligated — for certified employees only — to notify the teachers by May 15 whether or not their contracts would be renewed. That deadline doesn’t apply to non-certified or classified employees, who are still waiting to hear the district’s decision on which positions will be cut, and how many.

“It’s a very emotional and tense time for our staff, because they know that our support staff, the classified positions, are being studied,” Thake said in an interview. “We hope to let our classified staff know as soon as possible which positions are being impacted, and we’re finalizing that right now.”

“We’re taking a little longer because we want to make sure we get it right the first time around. We owe it to our people to be thorough and vigilant with the process.”

Cathleen Wilder, president of the Aberdeen Education Association, the district’s teacher’s union, said she was concerned about the well-being of staff and future learning environment for students, but that she thought the district “was really thoughtful about trying to make as few cuts as possible.”

When it comes to involuntary transfers, Wilder said, “People aren’t going to be in the place where they envisioned themselves being, and that’s going to have an impact on how much preparation they need and whether that fits into the vision they had for their career.”

The true impact of the cuts, Wilder said, won’t be clear until the district releases information about classified staff, for which no contractual deadline exists, according to Thake.

Depending on enrollment and other funding opportunities for next year, Thake said, there’s a chance the district could find funding for recently reduced positions. Should that be the case, the district will follow collective bargaining agreements and call teachers back based on seniority, Thake said.

Thake couldn’t say what portion of the district’s $3.5 million budget reduction goal the recent cuts would account for, or what portion still needs to be cut, but confirmed the district was on track to meet the goal and not to exceed it.

The Aberdeen School District at a March 27 board meeting directed Thake to carry out the $3.5 million reduction, heeding a recommendation the superintendent made earlier that month.

Thake last month said the district was also examining six-figure external contracts as possible avenues for reducing spending. On Thursday, Thake was hopeful that two contracts — one for behavioral health services and another for YMCA membership — could be retained through grant funding and federal ESSER dollars, respectively.

Thake said the district’s ESSER funding — emergency money issued during the pandemic — will likely expire at the end of next year. That, combined with declining enrollment, rising property values and caps on levy asks forced the district to carry out the staff cuts to avoid a predicted $9 million loss in district revenue for next school year, according to Thake.

Wilder pointed to the state’s funding formula, as well as the 2018 McCleary decision of the Washington State Supreme Court, as a culprit for the current cuts.

The McCleary decision required the state to fully fund basic education for schools, but in response, the state Legislature limited the amount districts can garner from property tax levies.

The state allocated funding to school districts based on enrollment — about $10,000 per student, in Aberdeen’s case. But the district has declined by 1% on average over the last ten years, and by about 250 students over the last ten years.

The decline means the district is overstaffed by about 10%, Thake said, according to state formulas.

“Right now in the state of Washington, they’re determining staffing on a formula that is very restrictive, and it’s not very reflective of a district like Aberdeen where we have significant needs,” Wilder said.

The Aberdeen School District also reduced staff by 46 prior to the 2019-2020 school year. Thake said staffing cuts for future years are still on the table.

“This is our family, we need every one of them,” Wilder said.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.