Centralia School District announces it will not make major cuts to staff amid budget ‘crisis’

By Katie Hayes

The Chronicle

Amid a budget crunch, the Centralia School District is retaining its staff for the upcoming year, and will not pursue a “Reduction in Force” resolution.

“To be clear, this is a one-time fix and will require relief in the next biannual budget,” reads a memo from the Centralia School District to staff. “We will need more revenue and a possible opportunity to raise levy collections. If not, we will see another crisis in the 2020-2021 budget year and the need for a reduction plan once again.”

The Centralia School District sent a press release Monday evening, along with a memo it sent to its staff.

“This is a one-year reprieve,” said Superintendent Mark Davalos in the press release from the Centralia School District. “We haven’t found a pot of uncounted money that solves our fiscal issues. Our projection for next year has us, once again, spending more than we receive. This creates an unsustainable deficit situation.”

While the district announced it will not make large-scale cuts, there will still be reductions in staff, according to the press release and memo.

“There will still be some staff reductions and other savings in next years’ 19-20 budget, due to enrollment decline and higher costs, but that is normal and part of our regular budget planning that is just beginning,” the memo reads in part.

Public relations and communications coordinator for the district, Ed Petersen, said Monday evening his understanding is that those reductions will come from retirements or positions that are already vacant that the district will not fill.

In the press release, Davalos states that the board agreed to allocate funds to avoid major staff reductions. It was not immediately clear when this took place. According to the press release, the district will draw from its general fund and other reserved funds, instead of reducing its staff.

“Our main determination is that there will not be a reduction in force for the 2019-2020 school year, and we will not use staff reductions to balance the budget this year, ” said Davalos in the press release. “My thanks go out to our board of directors for agreeing to this one-year solution.”

When asked when the board approved this decision, Petersen said the board did not explicitly approve it.

“It’s not really a thing that the board has to vote to approve,” said Petersen Monday evening. “Mark (Davalos) had a conversation with the board president (Bob Fuller) and let him know the district would not be presenting a resolution.”

As a result of the McCleary decision — in which the Supreme Court ruled the state was not adequately funding K-12 basic education — school districts received an increase in funding from the state last year. At the same time, however, the legislature put a cap on how much school districts can collect from local levy dollars.

Previously, school districts were using local levy dollars to supplement teacher salaries, which gave property-rich districts an unfair advantage. Now, the levy cap is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value for most school districts in the state.

Before the levy cap set in, the Centralia School District gave its teachers a 24 percent raise, as the Washington Education Association reported.

“This fiscal year we had half the year at our old rate, and half at the new lower levy rate,” said Davalos in the press release. “Next year will all be at the lower rate. It’s a significant impact on our revenue.”