Edmonds School District plans pink slips for 25 teachers

Assistant principal and tech positions also axed
By Makenna Dreher | May 15, 2019
Photo by: Makenna Dreher Edmonds Education Association President Andi Nofziger-Meadows, center, listens to public testimonies.

Last summer, many held the Edmonds School District up as the standard after a new salary schedule provided an average 18.3 percent increase for teachers and staff.

Many may be changing their minds now, as the district – at this point – is the only one in the county making cuts to staff and programs. Although legislators hiked property taxes to increase the flow of money to education, they set a lower limit to how much school districts could collect from levies.

With that in mind, students and community members on Tuesday packed the district’s main room and two overflow spaces – equipped with video monitors – to voice their opinions and hear the board’s decision on how to reduce a $17.7 million budget deficit.

Public testimony – often heated, certainly emotional – lasted more than three hours.

In the end, just after 11:30 p.m., district board approved an amended “Reduced Educational Plan” for three types of positions, with plans for future talks on the budget.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the amended plan, with Deborah Kilgore and Carin Chase opposing. Voting in favor of the cuts were Gary Noble, Ann McMurray and board president Diana White, who is stepping down at the end of the year and is running for Edmonds City Council.

The updated number of reduced certified instructional force is 25, down from 43 positions earlier in the day, Superintendent Kristine McDuffy said to start off the meeting.

“These are excruciating times, when we face reductions of any sort in the public school system,” she said. “We’ve lived through these times in the past, and it’s so unfortunate that we find ourselves here again.

“I wanted to make sure you all understand that we had to make initial steps tonight, and that much more information will be developed in the next several months, where the board adopts the final budget in August.”

What’s being cut

On Tuesday, board members voted to cut 25.2 certified instructional positions, 8.5 assistant principal positions and two instructional technology coaches. These positions are full time.

The board voted to only vote on pressing items that had a May 15 deadline as part of Chase’s proposed amendment, and pushed other decisions off to study sessions over the next few months. Those include reducing hours or positions of paraeducators, as well as technology and occupational therapists.

And several vacant positions, including three custodians and one groundskeeper, may not get filled. That’s in addition to more than $2 million, scheduled to be spent on materials and supplies, that may not get spent.

“The point of the amendment is to add additional clarity,” Chase said. “It will make it really clear on the distinction on these three line items and the rest of the line items. My intent in this is for additional clarity – for not only ourselves, but also for our audience members here.”

Said Vice President Kilgore: “We’re going to be talking about the budget all summer, and many of these items are not time-sensitive and can be part of the ongoing discussion.”

“We have to balance this out,” added McMurray. “If we’re going to make decisions in one area to change this number, we have to look at how we can make reductions in other areas.

“Whichever way we work, probably somebody’s job is going to be affected, whether it is to retain it, or to lose it. So that’s the challenge that we’ll have over the next couple of months as we continue to try to find ways to have the least amount of impact possible.”

McMurray explained that in many years the number of reduced positions affected in budget talks decrease as staff leave the district due to retirement and other staffing changes.

As for moving forward, executive director of Human Resources, Debby Carter said, “We have to look at where people fall with in state seniority, out of state total seniority. There are several factors that go into whether it would be taken from provisional, or the reduction in force, to be in compliance with our collective bargaining. We can’t just put numbers in.”

McMurray said as class size increases, teachers will receive more compensation, so the actual savings from the class sizes would be reduced by the estimated additional compensation.

Addressing the directors, McDuffy said that this was the “drop-dead point in time” to take the first steps to continue analyzing, discussing changes and looking to the board for direction with developing a budget.

On her decision to vote against the resolution on Tuesday, Chase said: “I’m not comfortable with the parameters that led us to this number, and that includes some of the items in this budget that we’re going to talk about later. We need to make this decision tonight to try to protect as many as these individuals that have been impacted by that. And unless we have that budget discussion, I’m not going to be able to vote for this.”

Solidarity

Educators, students, volunteers and community members dressed in red for solidarity gave 59 tense and emotional personal stories during public comments to stress the impact the budget cuts would have on students, educators and families in the district and portray what life was like in already overcrowded classrooms.

Andi Nofziger-Meadows, the Edmonds Education Association president, said that the cuts to certificated staff creating larger classrooms, are largely unnecessary and that the “perfect storm” the district has described for the last few months is exaggerated.

“We are asking you to budget based on more realistic enrollment predictions,” she continued. “If cuts are necessary, we ask you to find other areas and keep them as far away from schools and students as possible.”

A group of four students from College Place Middle School spoke on behalf of their class during public testimony.

“Having an abundance of children in a small classroom will only decrease the amount of understanding and education a child will get,” said student Adriana Equihua. “Every student learns differently, and having a big class can be a very big disadvantage.

“Some of our classes are already big. My science class has 31 kids,” she added. “There’s not enough room for all of us to be at a science table, and it gets very dangerous and distracting.”

Many teachers, young and old, explained how they were products of the Edmonds School District and chose to raise their families in the area based on the improvements the district has made the last few years. Many expressed frustration with the confusing budget and the district’s treatment of teachers.

One of them, Nick Wellington, an Edmonds-Woodway social studies teacher, implored the board to stop treating young teachers like hostages.

“Are we crucial, or are we a cost?” he asked.

“This is embarrassing that we have to be here begging for our jobs,” another teacher said, who added that his job status has gone back and forth several times in the past year.

Many of the public testimonies included issues of equity for all students in the district, on all different learning levels and backgrounds, including students learning English as a second language.

Ashley Potter, a first-year teacher at Alderwood Middle School, was not planning on making a public comment, but said she was encouraged by other teachers who spoke on her behalf.

Potter said she is on the bottom of the list of teachers to lose their jobs for next school year.

“I started off my career wanting to be a teacher because education saved my life,” she said. “Because of that, I began to pursue a career in education knowing that it made my dreams come true, and it made opportunities and doors open for me that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“This is the first time in my career and my life as a student that education has not provided me with opportunity and fulfilled my dreams. This is the first time that education has let me down.”

Mayoral candidate and Edmonds City Councilmember Neil Tibbott attended the meeting to support his wife, a teacher at Chase Lake Elementary School, as well as the teachers in the district, he said.

“I’m really interested in how they’re going to bring together the lack of budget with the need that’s presented here tonight, so I’ll be listening carefully to see how they resolve that.”

White stressed that she heard the testimonies from the night, and valued the people who came to support the district’s staff and students. She asked for the audience to have confidence in the board, and said she wants to improve communication so no one is left in the dark throughout the future planning process.

“I’m asking people to just stick with us because this is the hardest it’s ever been in 50 years of education funding. We’ve gotten this short end of the stick. We value you, we value kids; we have to make these super-hard decisions, and you can hear in our voices that we want to make this right.”

“They’re listening, so it’s been good to hear our teachers speak, but more importantly, our students in lending their voice to the budget,” said Kanoe Vierra, a high school teacher and dean at Scriber Lake High School.

“I think that’s important as it’s going to affect (the students), more than us.”

 

 

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