No teacher layoffs at Monroe School District in budget rewritten due to levy failure
MONROE — The Monroe School District will not be laying off teachers this year, instead pulling up to $7 million from its available reserves as a safeguard if its second try at a levy doesn’t pass in November.
It may, though, be cutting back on school field trips, reducing paraeducator hours, delaying buying new science books, and reducing how many school staff are in buildings for the next school year.
Taking $7 million from its savings helps spare the extent of cuts considered for student activities and athletics, a district overview report says.
The district had to find money for two reasons: In February, voters declined to continue a school district property tax levy beyond 2022, and enrollment has fallen by 700 children since the 2019-2020 school year. Less kids means less state dollars for the district.
People leaving the district on their own through attrition, such as by retiring, is helping prevent any need to use layoffs to help downsize staff, the district’s new human resources director Dan Johnston told the school board last week.
The deadline to create a balanced school budget is Aug. 31 for the next school year that starts Sept. 1.
This November, the district will try a levy again.
Budget writers revised much on paper to get here.
The district got unanimous school board approval last week to take from its available funds to bridge the gap.
It’s a calculated risk. If voters approve a levy in the fall, the money would come from that versus taking from the general fund.
If a levy doesn’t pass, the district will need to find another $14 million in cutbacks, and would not have the reserves to do it.
The district would have an estimated $7.1 million left for its fund balance at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. The scenario guarantees needing to make cuts.
“There will not be a safety net,” the district’s financial officer Brenda Hunt said in April.
The district has $14.1 million saved up in total today.
After May 15, the final deadline passes for the district to notify teachers that risk layoff under “Reduction in Force” (RIF) employment laws in Washington state.
Board members considered it a no-brainer to not stress-out district employees with “RIF” notices that they’re on a list of people who might get cut because of the budget.
Board member Jeremiah Campbell is a teacher who has experienced it. “It’s a scary thing,” he said. Even approving layoffs as an option for the summer creates stress among employees, he said.
Acting Superintendent Kim Whitworth said this stress is unnecessary. She remembers how unpleasant a RIF is, too, from when she was a teacher.
The teacher’s union president, Robyn Hayashi, said the union is pleased a RIF is not being done.
“For too many years we have been subject to premature RIFs, only to have those staff members called back in August after the district determined they were hasty in their decision to issue cuts,” Hayashi said. “We know that this year we will likely experience higher-than-normal attrition, and in order to best serve our students, we need to protect ourselves from permanently losing even more teachers to other districts through forced reductions.”
Another union, the Public School Employees of Monroe, represents the district’s custodians, groundskeepers, maintenance workers, transportation workers, paraeducators, specialized support people and technology workers.
Some staff cutbacks are being described as “right-sizing,” which is “correcting the student-staff ratio based on our formula,” the district’s financial officer Brenda Hunt described. The district is reducing staff back to pre-COVID levels. COVID-19 requirements for cleaning schools and separating students by six feet required more staff, Hunt said.
The district also will be trimming its budgets for multiple administrative departments.
Building projects in the district are already funded through capital dollars, and are unaffected by this decision, district administrator Victor Scarpelli said.
The February levy for education received 46% approval. It required 50% to pass.
Movement on Superintendent Blasko investigation
The third-party investigator looking into Superintendent Justin Blasko has completed their investigation, school board president Jennifer Bumpus announced April 22. The investigator’s report should be compiled by mid-May.
Blasko was put on administrative leave in mid-December after numerous complaints about him came to light.
The hired investigator is Kris Cappel of the Seabold Group.
The Monroe teacher’s union asked Blasko to resign after taking a vote of no confidence in his leadership Dec. 10.
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