School board approves staff reductions in Aberdeen

The school board meeting in the Community Room at Aberdeen High School Tuesday night was packed with teachers, parents and community members concerned about a plan to reduce staff — 23 through layoffs and 23 more through attrition — for next school year.

The state Legislature is still in session and could make changes that provide some additional funding for special education and increase the possible local levy amount, but Superintendent Alicia Henderson is unsure whether much more help will come from the state, and developed the cuts based on the money the district anticipates will be available to it. Her plan to cut includes staff reductions in every employee category — teachers, administrators and support personnel. It was unanimously passed by the Aberdeen School Board.

Because of the McCleary case that found Washington public schools must be funded by the state fully for what it considers “basic education,” a new school funding model was put into place. It increased funds from the state to local districts, but put a cap on funding through local levies, and changed funding formulas in other ways that hurt some districts. The net result, Aberdeen’s school officials say, is that the district needs to identify $3.5 million in cuts for next school year to make up for what it loses in the new funding model.

The plan calls for a 7% reduction in “certificated” staff, which includes teachers and others that require some form of certification. The district will have 17 fewer of those positions next year — 12 lost through attrition and five through layoffs.

Classified staff will be reduced by 8%, which includes the category of other employees like cafeteria workers, grounds staff and bus drivers. There will also be two administrators affected.

The people losing jobs were being notified Wednesday and Thursday. The packed meeting saw a number of teachers speak out in support of those they believe are getting cut, including the district’s one English learner coach, and some school counselors.

“This job simply cannot be done without daily access to full time counselors,” said fourth-grade teacher Lisa Templeton. “Teachers would be out in the hall large chunks of the day, trying to sort out issues instead of teaching academics.”

Mika Katzer, the district’s coach for the English Learners Program, said afterward that she expected to be cut, and that she’s concerned what her removal will mean for the program.

“We’re not providing all the services, as is (for English learners),” said Katzer, who added she directly works with around 70 students at the high school.

Katzer said the one Japanese class she teaches was cut at the end of the second trimester this year after the students had already completed two years of Japanese. She currently teaches an elective Japanese culture class this final trimester as a “filler” in the schedule, Katzer said. She’s also the adviser of the school’s Japanese club, which she said had gotten up to 60 members this year.

Before approving the proposal Wednesday evening, many of the board members commented on how hard it was to do so, and some were visibly emotional and teary-eyed before all voted in favor of approving the “Reduced Education Program” created by Henderson.

Board President Sandra Bielski referenced reports that 253 out of 295 school districts in Washington State are facing deficits because of the new funding model, and blamed the Legislature for the difficult cuts.

“I’m still angry, I don’t want to lose anybody,” said Bielski. “It’s not fun to be a school board member right now. I didn’t sign up to reduce people that are so important to a school district.”

William Dyer, longtime Aberdeen district teacher who is now at Grays Harbor College, has been the board’s point person to convince legislators they need to fix the problem. He said he’s unaware of significant help coming from the state, and that many legislators “firmly believe” the McCleary case has been successfully resolved.

“I recognize the cuts impact kids, the disruption this makes to staff and students, and I acknowledge the pain it will cause employees,” said Dyer. “I will continue to talk with legislators about funding disparities and implore them to help our district, and I encourage all concerned citizens to do the same.”

With money the state provided through new funding formulas to increase teacher salaries, every school district in the state opened its contract for bargaining this year and double-digit raises were common in every district. The Aberdeen Education Association (the teachers union) successfully bargained to receive an 18% raise for certificated staff.

For many months the district has looked for savings to reduce the need for staff cuts as much as possible. It has already identified $1 million in savings for this current school year, a 2% cost savings.

But it still needed to identify $3.5 million in savings for the 2019-20 school year. The staff reductions make up $2.8 million, and $700,000 in savings was identified through materials, supplies and operating cost reductions.