Budget advisory group finalizes proposed cutbacks for Aberdeen School District

Aberdeen School District’s citizen Budget Advisory Committee has submitted recommendations for cuts in the district over the next two school years, including reductions to the district’s college preparation and special education programs. But the recommendations only account for a small chunk of the overall reductions the district will need to make.

At Tuesday’s Aberdeen School Board meeting, the Budget Advisory Committee presented its proposed areas for cuts, which added up to about $650,000 of more than $3.5 million the district says it needs to save for the 2019-20 school year. Due to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision that has has changed how Washington public schools receive funding, district officials say they are in a budget crisis, and have to make a variety of cuts and changes to maintain basic operations and minimize layoffs.

With more than $2.8 million still needed in cuts next year, Superintendent Alicia Henderson said it looks like a lot of that will have to come in the form of staff layoffs. The district will not notify staff of layoffs until April, Henderson said, so the district can take into account potential new funding from the state Legislature, which is currently in session.

The 20-person Budget Advisory Committee — which includes district staff and community members — suggested making reductions in a few areas like the college preparation program (AVID) and technology. The committee was 60 percent in favor of limiting AVID offerings to the high school only, eliminating it from the junior high. Special education was another area targeted. The district was projected to budget about $1.5 million for special education in 2019-20.

It was a challenge to make the recommendations, committee member Patrick Farwell said, knowing the programs can play an important role in students’ futures.

“The hard part is dismantling or potentially undoing some of the very successful programs that are in place now,” said Farwell, a retired Aberdeen resident who has previously served as a health administrator in the area.

Farwell added it’s unfortunate the needed budget cut could hurt special education and the AVID program, which he said helps set up students for college readiness before even getting to high school.

“(AVID) really puts in kids’ minds, ‘I can go to college, be a doctor, a lawyer or a reporter if I wanted to,’” said Farwell. “I’ve met kids who went through the AVID program, and they’re being accepted to major universities. In the absence of it, they might not have even thought of that as their potential.”

A few of the non-school staff on the Budget Advisory Committee plan to meet with state legislators in Olympia next week to ask for more funding for districts such as Aberdeen that were hit harder financially from the state’s new funding model. One of the issues is the state’s reductions to local levy funding.

In 2017, district voters approved a levy rate of $4.31 for every $1,000 worth of real property in the district. Beginning this month, the rate was cut down to $1.50 per $1,000 in value, which is the state’s new capped amount as a result of McCleary. The state’s funding model also offers a 4-percent increase in state funding for districts that meet an “experience factor” with a certain amount of more experienced teachers. Aberdeen didn’t qualify for that additional funding even though district officials have reported having a high number of experienced teachers.

Another community member on the Budget Advisory Committee is Debbi Ross, who has family members who are teachers in the district. She plans to go to meet with legislators, and said some lawmakers she’s spoken with are aware of inequities in the state’s school funding model, while others think the system is fine.

“In the back of my mind I keep hoping the state is going to come forward with more money,” Ross said of trying to reduce the potential cuts and layoffs. “Realistically, we all know there’s no guarantee with that.”

Ross added she’s frustrated that teachers were promised more money from the state for salary raises, even though the new funding model hurts the district financially as well.

“I know they were promised those raises, and they were led to believe that the money was going to be given to the schools, and I’m not sure that’s really what’s happening,” she said. “The Legislators need to understand that you made a promise to school teachers you would bring their salaries up to a point they deserve to be. Then you developed this little process that isn’t doing it. It’s very frustrating.”

Aberdeen teachers successfully bargained for an 18 percent raise in September.

Some lawmakers have already responded to Aberdeen’s plea for financial help, such as State Sen. John McCoy from the 38th Legislative District, who sent a statement in response to the Budget Advisory Committee’s Dec. 5 letter of concern to legislators.

“There is a need to address the disparities between rural and urban school funding, and the impact these inequities have,” McCoy wrote. “The Washington State Legislature must continue its work on funding sustainable, fair funding solutions to support our schools without negatively impacting our communities and children.”

Other takeaways from the advisory committee were that essentially no one wanted to make cuts to athletics or music next year, and that a majority of the members favored putting a hold on the swimming program for kindergarten through second grade. For more information on the Budget Advisory Committee and its recommendations, it’s available on the Aberdeen School District website, under the “Our District” tab.