Aberdeen superintendent releases staff reduction proposal

This story was updated April 16, at 10:50 a.m.

Significant staff reductions are likely coming to the Aberdeen School District for the 2019-20 year, as Superintendent Alicia Henderson has released a proposed plan for program cuts to help keep the district financially stable.

Henderson has proposed reducing the district’s staff by 46 next school year, some from layoffs, some from attrition. It’s part of her proposal to cut spending in light of expected revenue shortfalls and changing educational funding formulas.

The plan includes 23 staff layoffs in the Aberdeen School District, which includes classified, certificated and administrative staff. It also anticipates 23 fewer staff next year through attrition, accounting for the total of 46. Henderson’s plan creates $2.8 million in savings from staff.

District officials have said Aberdeen needs to identify 7%, or $3.5 million in cost savings for the upcoming school year, due in part to Washington State’s changes in its education funding model that reportedly hurts the district financially. In the “McCleary Fix,” the state’s response to a suit demanding the state fully fund “basic education,” funding formula changes reduced the amount districts could fund locally through tax levies.

Of the layoffs, 14 are classified staff (janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria workers would be in that category), seven are certificated staff (that could include teachers and others who require some type of certification) and two are administrators. With the attrition — vacant positions that won’t be filled — 12 are classified, 10 are certificated, and one is administrative.

Aberdeen School Board members will vote on the plan at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. board meeting in the Community Room of Aberdeen High School.

Michelle Reed, president of the Aberdeen Education Association (the district’s teachers union), said she believes there are “indications of potential significant fiscal mismanagement by the district,” and that the union disagrees with the cuts.

“The AEA does not believe that a reduction in force is necessary or defensible; especially since the collective bargaining agreement addresses reduction in force, and is not clearly triggered,” said Reed in a message.

In response to Reed’s comments, Henderson said the statement is “surprising,” and “a very serious accusation.” Henderson pointed out that the district is audited every year, and that this year’s audit is almost concluded.

“None of these allegations have been brought to the attention of the auditor, nor the district,” said Henderson. “To make such a statement without offering any evidence is inflammatory. Dozens of school districts in our state are dealing with reductions, and similar accusations that cuts are unnecessary are being made in those districts as well. This is a time that we need to work together in the best interest of our students and community.”

Henderson said that staff will be notified individually on Wednesday if they’re being cut, and declined to discuss which areas are getting the most reductions because the staff haven’t been informed yet.

However, her proposal lists some areas as being hit harder, such as special education where the equivalent of 3.6 full time employees will be removed next year through either cuts or attrition. Because of the state’s prototypical model that determines how much each school program gets, Henderson said the Aberdeen School District currently spends $1.5 million more for special education than the state plans to pay. In the state Legislature, there are proposals to increase funding for special education programs, which Henderson said would help and she said could bring in around $200,000 to Aberdeen.

The superintendent’s proposal also reflects that some elementary school employees will be switched to Miller Junior High School to compensate for the switch of sixth grade students to Miller. The proposal shows 13.65 fewer certificated staff at elementary schools next year, and 10.6 additional staff at Miller.

If additional funding did come through the Legislature, Henderson said there’s a chance staff could be rehired, noting that laid-off staff will be on a rehire list to be potentially brought back. Right now she isn’t sure whether the Legislature will address some of the funding issues.

Henderson’s statement said the plan for reductions was made with three goals in mind: keeping cuts “as far away from the classroom as possible,” making as many reductions as possible through attrition and to “maximize efficiencies where possible” with the move of sixth-grade students to Miller Junior High next year. The reductions also include $700,000 in savings from materials, supplies and operating cost reductions.

Of the seven certificated positions considered for layoffs, five are not classroom positions, Henderson said.

“Every single person who works for our district is a valued member of our educational team. This has been an arduous process,” Henderson wrote. “The reduced educational program is proposed with a heavy heart and my hope is that every impacted staff member knows how incredibly difficult it was to make these decisions.”

A big factor in creating Henderson’s proposal was the state’s prototypical school model, meaning many of the staff reductions reflect how the state will be funding some programs at lower levels than before the new funding model.

“Any decision has not been arbitrary, they’ve been firmly grounded in how the state funds us,” she said in an interview.

The district’s website includes a timeline for meetings to discuss possible transfers or job “bumping.”