Edmonds School Board approves 2019-20 budget that include staff layoffs, program cuts

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Katy Powell-Mitchell, a former Meadowdale High School drama teacher whose layoff notice prompted students and parents to speak on her behalf at multiple Edmonds School Board meetings.

The Edmonds School Board of Directors voted unanimously at last week’s business meeting to adopt a $343.3 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. The approved budget includes program cuts, layoffs and use of district reserves to address a $17.7 million deficit. 

The 4-0 board vote (Director Anne McMurray was absent) Aug. 13 came after months of deliberation to resolve the deficit, which resulted in layoff notices for 25.2 certified full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers and other cuts across the district.

Executive Director of Business and Finance Lydia Sellie said during last week’s board presentation that the budget includes $1.9 million in cuts to technical education programs, as well as $1.4 million in reductions from departments like human resources, business services, and equity and public relations. The district also plans to use $1.2 million from its reserves to accommodate the budget shortfall, she added.

“After using reserves to balance the budget for several years, the ending fund balance for the 2019-20 budget has been stabilized at 2017-18 levels,” Sellie said. “This stability will help the district going forward.”

Even though the district is facing a budget deficit in the new school year, Sellie said she expects the crisis to be resolved moving forward. Due to changes in state law during the 2019 legislative session that allows districts to collect more money from local property taxes, Edmonds will receive an additional $57 million starting in 2020.

Currently, levy restrictions are set at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $2,500 per student — whichever is less. Under the new law — which goes into effect in 2020 — districts can collect the lesser of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $2,500 per student. 

The Edmonds School District will benefit from these changes because district voters in 2018 authorized a tax rate that was above state-imposed restrictions on levies. That means the district can receive millions of extra dollars without going back to voters for supplemental levies, which other school districts may have to do if they want additional revenue.

During the Aug. 13 presentation, Sellie pointed out that the district expects to lose $6.2 million in local levy collections during the 2019-20 school year based on the current tax collection formula. She also said wage increases for the 2019-20 school year for all employees — “both known increases and estimated increases” — were part of the deficit.

Also in the 2019-20 year, districts will be required to comply with state-mandated reduced K-3 class sizes or risk reductions in state funding, Sellie said. This meant the district had to hire 10 additional elementary school teachers. To offset these expenses, class sizes for grades 4-12 are expected to increase by two to three students or more, she added.

Sellie said the district anticipates receiving $5.6 million in state funding for special education, teachers’ salaries, professional development and transportation.

District staff have also reported stable enrollment for the 2019-20 year, with the actual enrollment being $900,000 over budget, which Sellie said is a good sign.

“We don’t want to see a budget deficit at the same time that enrollment is declining,” she said. “It’s a healthy place to be with increasing enrollment — even if it’s light — it brings in new revenues.”

School Board Vice-President Deborah Kilgore said that after working on the budget for a year, she is optimistic about the district’s future for the district.

“Four years from now, I hope whoever is sitting up here is in a better place and isn’t dealing with that kind of a deficit again,” she said. 

At its May 14 meeting, the board of directors came under fire from almost 60 teachers, students and parents who spent three hours pleading on behalf of the teachers who would be affected by the layoffs.

It’s uncertain as of now exactly how many staff positions will be eliminated as a result of budget cuts. A total of 19.9 FTE, or 33 teachers, initially received layoff notices. The district also cut eight elementary school assistant principals. So far, the district has recalled 14 teachers, or 11.5 FTE, who received layoff notices. 

In addition, 29 paraeducators were laid off as a result of the board’s May 14 decision. Since then, 24 of those paraeducators were reinstated, said Executive Director of Human Resources Debby Carter. If a paraeducator position was unavailable, those who had been laid off were offered other positions, like professional technical or office jobs, she added.

“All those (paraeducators) who have wanted jobs have gotten jobs,” Carter said.

The other five chose not to return to the district for a variety of reasons ranging from retirement to other employment, said district spokesperson Harmony Weinberg.     

However, not all faculty members were as fortunate. Among those not returning for the 2019-20 school year is Katy Powell-Mitchell, a Meadowdale High School drama teacher. After the district announced that Powell-Mitchell might not return in the fall, her students attended every board meeting to speak on her behalf, asking that she be reinstated.

At the Aug. 13 board meeting, it was Powell-Mitchell’s turn to advocate for the students and program she would leave behind. Fighting back tears, Powell-Mitchell — who has accepted a position in another district — requested that the board restore the program’s technical theater class and hire a certified theater teacher with industry experience to fill her position as soon as possible.

“Theater makes for better human beings and these students are evidence of just that,” she said. “So please do what you can to do what you can to make sure this program thrives. It’s the foundation for so many and it truly makes for a better school community.”

The board also heard from members of the ESD Association of Office Personnel union, which is currently in contract negotiations with the district. During the public comment period, Edmonds Elementary office manager Cindy Bartlette said that administration staff are some of the most overworked district employees, often doing their jobs on nights, weekends, holidays and during the summer.

“Office personnel work 220 days a year and we feel like we never go home,” she said. “Even when we do go home, we feel like we are on-call employees.”

Beverly Elementary School office manager Lauri Velasquez said it was disappointing that office personnel are being told there is no money for them. According to Velasquez, office personnel are being told the district no longer pays current midpoint salaries compared to surrounding districts. She said the change is surprising, after certificated district staff received pay raises last year.

“These facts seem to indicate some groups are receiving higher than the midpoint,” she said. 

District spokesperson Weinberg said because the contract negotiations are ongoing, the district is not able to share specific details. However, she added that “the Edmonds School District continues the bargaining process in good faith with the ESD Association of Office Personnel regarding their new contract.”

–Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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