With a drop in student enrollment, ESD staff work to find jobs for displaced teachers

The Edmonds School Board Tuesday night heard from Spruce Elementary School second-grade students about their work to help orphaned baby bears at PAWS in Lynnwood.

Due to a drop in student enrollment, the Edmonds School District is working to find jobs for dozens of displaced teachers or risk issuing them pink slips by mid-May.

Since March 2020, the district has seen an enrollment decrease of 173 FTE students. At the Edmonds School Board of Directors’ April 27 business meeting, staff explained that the decline in student enrollment has left the district with 47.02 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees at risk of being displaced. However, with 50.3 FTE vacancies to fill, Human Resources Director Debby Carter said staff are optimistic they will not have to resort to layoffs.

A staffing surplus occurs after a school’s needs are assessed and it is determined that there are not enough students to justify having as many teachers. For example, if a school that previously had 32 staff members sees a drop in enrollment and only needs 30 staff, then the extra two are placed at another school in the district. Other factors like staff retirements, leaves of absence and resignations also factor into where teachers are placed, Carter said.

“It’s the puzzle piece of matching those surplus (teachers) with the need,” she said.

Carter also clarified that no staff members have received layoff notices at this time and the briefing for the reduced educational program was in the event that they would have to notify affected staff before the state-mandated May 15 deadline.

“I want to stress that no reductions of force have been identified at this time,” she said. “This is the first step in balancing staffing and then it will change on a daily basis.”

In the event there are layoffs, Carter said staff will return to present an actual number of affected staff at the board’s May 11 business meeting.

Staffing for the 2021-22 school year is currently underway. During a typical school year, the district will hire between 100 and 150 employees. This year, the district was “slightly” overstaffed with an average of 600 FTE, Carter said.

“We’ve been trying to mitigate that over the course of the year, she said.

Director Ann McMurray said she was concerned about students not actively participating in remote learning and asked what schools are doing to keep them engaged. McMurray said some students appeared to have “evaporated” during remote learning and now that they have returned to classrooms, she asked what is being done to track down the students the district lost.

In response, Meadowdale Middle School Principal Joseph Webster — who was one of three principals invited to update the board on in-person learning at their schools — said some students were a challenge to track down but added that early on they developed a system where different staff had different cohorts of students to check on. He said there was only one student they were unable to locate, and staff have been able to stay in contact with the remaining students.

Also during the meeting, second-graders from Spruce Elementary School briefed the board on their work to translate global initiatives into local actions by helping three orphaned baby black bears being cared for at PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood. 

In addition to studying the bear’s life cycle and eating habits, students design toys to encourage them to forage for food since they had no mother to teach them. Students then came up with the idea to create papier-mâché piñatas to fill with snacks. The piñatas were constructed with newspapers and flour, instead of glue, to be safe for the bears’ consumption.

In 2019, Spruce Elementary teacher Dr. Jennie Warmouth was the recipient of the Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, which allowed her to study polar bears in the Arctic, which is where she got the idea for this project.

Andrea Heller explains how they used flour and newspaper to create papier-mâché piñatas to fill with food and teach bears to forage for food.

As a fundraiser for PAWS, students held a readathon, where they read more than 2,600 books in two days and raised $2,000. One student in the class, Anvita Kavi, read 119 books on her own.

Director Nancy Katims called the project “a model of what project-based learning looks like when it has all the criteria to get kids engaged.”

The topic of class sizes at Mountlake Terrace High School was raised during the meeting’s public comments portion. During her comments, Mountlake Terrace High School teacher Jami Wollan said projected class sizes for next year are unreasonable and unsafe. Only three of the 11 science classes offered had under 33 students per class this year and one class is projected to have more next year — up to 50 students, she said.

“I have personally experienced this as a teacher at Mountlake Terrace High School with my classroom reshuffling and as a parent of a student affected by the shuffle,” she said.

Also during public comment, parent Katherine Ramsey said she is worried that reductions in staffing will not leave enough teachers once students return to campuses.

“We cannot risk increasing class sizes again, especially as we need to be socially distant,” she said.

 District parent Bryan Myrick commented that he had an issue with the recently altered graduation dates for Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace high schools, which are set for June 20 and coincide with Sunday and Father’s Day.

The board also received its regular school building re-entry update update from staff. As of now, all K-12 students who opted for in-person learning have returned to classrooms, said Superintendent Gustavo Balderas.

“We’re just excited to see the kids’ faces and the kids’ smiles when we visit campuses,” he said. “I do appreciate the staff and all their work for making this happen.”

As confirmed COVID-19 cases in Snohomish County continue to rise, the county may be returning to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan. Counties are individually evaluated every three weeks. The evaluations occur on Mondays with any phase changes taking effect on Friday. The next evaluation is scheduled for this coming Monday, May 3.

“If the district phases down it will have no impact on learning instruction day,” said Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen. However, she added the change could impact other school events and extracurricular activities like sports.

Geaslen also provided an update on a pilot project the district is participating in that would allow students and staff experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to perform self-administered tests at school buildings.

The project is a partnership with the Washington Department of Health. It allows anyone 4 years or older — with a parent or guardian’s permission — who may be experiencing symptoms at school, to visit the school’s COVID-19 containment room, self-test and then go home. Test results are received in 48 hours.

The pilot began April 27 at three sites — Meadowdale High, Meadowdale Middle and Spruce Elementary — and is expected to be implemented in all school buildings by May 10. Staff are also looking at a potential drive-thru option for parents to bring their students through if they opt out of the self-administered option.

Regarding summer learning programs, Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner said in-person programs for students in grades K-8 will be invitation-only and online programs will be open to all students. Programs will be offered in the morning from July 6-Aug. 5. Also, high school students can take credit recovery courses, options for accelerated learning and online programs with required in-person labs. The program will be offered in the morning and afternoon from July 6-Aug. 12. Locations for both are still to be determined.

Other programs include English Learner Newcomer, Extended School Year and special education programs. Recruitment and registration will begin in coming weeks. On-site child care will be offered and more details will be provided once locations are determined. For more information, visit the district’s summer learning webpage.

In other business, the board discussed learning options for the 2021-22 school year. In addition to offering in-person learning, Balderas said the district would also be looking at fully remote learning options. He then asked for the board’s feedback.

Board President Deborah Kilgore said staff have already considered keeping some aspects of remote learning around for next year. Director Ann McMurray said it would be beneficial to continue to use technology — like recorded lessons — as an academic support tool.

“I felt like the technology may be able to help us solve some of those sticky problems that we haven’t been able to solve in the past,” Kilgore said.

While planning for the 2021-22 school year, Balderas said five days of in-person learning for all students should be the standard for the district.

“That needs to be reviewed and looked at with our (Edmonds Education) Association partners, but I think that should be the expectation,” he said.

In other business, board held a first reading on multiple new business items, including revisions to the following:

– The policy on Freedom of Expression, bringing the district in compliance with the Washington New Voices Act. Once implemented, the policy will give student journalists editorial control over their student-run publications, prohibit speech that violates district policy or procedure related to harassment, intimidation, or bullying. It will also offer more precise language regarding school officials who may only prohibit “inciting of students so as to create a clear and present danger of…material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school,” and allows prohibition of speech that incites students to violate these laws.

– The board’s policy regarding students on governing boards. According to staff, using district funds to provide scholarships to individual students represents a gift of public funds and that the practice should be discontinued.

– The district’s sexual health education policy, bringing the district into alignment with state law. Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner said the district’s current policy is pretty much a duplicate of the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s existing policy and the revisions were simple. “We’re actually a little ahead in many ways for this one,” he said.

– The district’s graduation requirements, which would outline multiple pathways and list them as a reference in the policy. 

No action was taken on any of the above items.

Balderas closed the meeting with thanks to the community after receiving preliminary results for the district’s proposed $180 million capital levy. Initial results showed the levy was receiving 55% approval.

With a voter turnout of 27% so far, returns from the Snohomish County Elections Office — as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday — showed the measure receiving 16,975 yes votes to 13,448 votes opposed, for 56% approval.

“That’s a great opportunity and a boost for our schools and our school staff need right now as we finish up the year,” Balderas said.

–By Cody Sexton

  1. “Since March 2020, the district has seen an enrollment decrease of 173 FTE students. At the Edmonds School Board of Directors’ April 27 business meeting, staff explained that the decline in student enrollment has left the district with 47.02 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees at risk of being displaced.”

    The real problem might be that the system is trying to generate 1 fulltime job for every 4 students.

    1. Hi Anthony, Kid count is about 20,000 and the web site says something like 3000 employees. I cannot find a reliable number for total employees but teaches is something like 1300. The layoff ratio is what you cite but I think the total staff to students is a bit higher, maybe something like 7 to 1. Lots of staff and more efficiency would be available if we were to reduce some of the functions that are duplicated in the 295 separate districts.

      We have learned a bunch about all sorts of topics as a result of CV. Now is the time to “take off our masks”, “open our eyes” and sort out better ways to deliver education.

      Forgetting all the politics and interest groups the goal is to get All our kids educated in a way to find productive jobs. Education today is 3yrs to 2yrs after HS. We need a plan for every kid so they actually can participate and excel in this process. It may take several models but if we sort it all out we can get All our kids ready for a productive work life. The more they pay for social security the better I will feel. Just a joke.

      We have learned that one size does not fit all in just about all we are doing today. Education is no different. We can do better.

      1. Darrol, my friend, thanks again for rational and sensible thoughts expressed on a local topic. If I understand your figures correctly, ESD has about 1700 non teaching employees and about 1300 teaching employees. So a little over 50% of the employees aren’t directly engaged with students in the classroom. Are there any studies out there that would shed light on whether this is a good and efficient ratio of employee types in a typical school district? There must be some model out there for what would be an efficient and well run public school district and a way to compare the ESD situation with what would be the ideal situation.

        1. Clint, I did not find the total employee number but the 3000 number was on the web site so the actual total employee count may be more. Numbers on the site are difficult to find and are different depending on where one looks. Student count ranges from 20964 to 21664 and class room teacher count ranges from 1309 to 1312. But you are correct more support folks than teachers.

          I am sure their are studies with all sorts of metrics that relate to efficiency. But the raw numbers may be misleading. Each of our 295 districts in the state do some functions that could likely be centralized if it were not for the “we want local control” issues. Another example is how various districts do grade levels. Most around here do K-5 then 6-8 and 9-12. ESD does K-6, 7-8, 9-12. We have staff who have to sort out the teaching materials that are geared to typical middle school (6,7,8) to get the stuff the kids need for 6th grade stuff in the K-6 model. Extra work because we use a different middle school model. Working on the enrollment study and bond study stuff was interesting. The bond study had us shifting to middle school at 6-8. It reduced the overcrowding at Elem schools. Be cause the bonds did not pass that would have addressed the addition of middle school capacity, we now are planning on more portables!!

          ESD can tell that story better and we could stop the future levy collections and do a bond to do the middle school thing right.

          Gates Foundation and others probably have all sorts of data and metrics to address your question of efficiency.

        2. Get the dollars from the Feds…Make Jayapal do her job!! School needs pre-empt her empty gaslighting on social justice issues!!

    2. David Andersen missed the direct reply button you have my support. The problem I see is the my way or the highway approach to public education where dissenting views are dismissed. Really not religious but with really no control I can only pray for our children’s future’s

  2. You hit the nail on the head William! My kids certainly will not be enrolled in public school in WA state.

  3. As I write this, my child is in the next room nearly half way through her 6 hours of zoom for the day. The upside is we go for a nice walk for her PE class. The downside will become clear in the months ahead when the district releases student test data. They stopped most standardized tests to hide the reality of what’s happening as the data will show these kids falling off an academic cliff. This has become far more than a lost year, the psychological and learning disorders I’m seeing just in the Seattle and Edmonds school districts alone are going to be costly and take time and effort to correct. Here in Edmonds we’re in better shape that the Seattle school district where most of my professor parent peers have already or are about to pull their kids out of public school. I haven’t notified the district yet that my student will join the exodus when the school year ends in 6 weeks. Budget crisis indeed.

    1. Out of curiosity, where do you plan on taking your child after pulling them out of school? Home schooling is difficult, and from the people I know who have gone through it, there have always been done gaps in their education.

      I suspect there will be a large increase in private school enrollment for those who can afford it.

      Now that schools are going back to in person, the advantages over home school will increase, and enrollment in public school will likely increase. That doesn’t address the issues of indoctrination that William T. brought up, but the general advantages in getting more prepared for college would likely outweigh the cons (as long as they resume standardized testing again).

      I don’t have any kids in public school yet, so there may be some major aspects I don’t know about.

      I do like that they will plan on keeping some of the class recordings available online though. That would be good for people to catch up for sick days, or review for tests.

      1. My family has lived and paid taxes in Edmonds for many years. In Washington state, all k12 age students are required to attend school and by law parents/guardians have 4 school choices; 1. public within home district, 2. private if available, 3. homeschool if requirements are met, and if all else fails 4. move or transfer to another state/district. I have a limited word count to explain however I can say I’ve already worked through 2 out of 4 so there’s that. Indoctrination has indeed become a problem but what concerns me even more is the miseducation or lack or education occurring in the public system. As a retired University professor married to a an accomplished College professor, I would normally feel compelled to write a book on the topic and actively lobby the state and school district to make appropriate curriculum changes, however, by objective measure this has become a crisis and I believe everyone should take care of their family first and foremost. I’m continuing active discussion with every passable local private institution with minimal success and am assembling every faculty and student resource I have available to build what my child needs and if successful, incorporate that work back into our publics. Failing that, my final available option is to move which I would rather avoid if possible.

    1. The levy that passed will not collect any money until our tax bill in 2022. The board could make a better case for the bonding approach and do some of the building issues better.

  4. What happens when there is a surplus of employees at a private company? (Say the airline industry, that I intend to enter) Employees get laid off. Pray tell, why is it the taxpayers responsibility to make up new jobs for teachers, when there just isn’t enough work to go around? We pay taxes so that teachers can teach our kids, nothing else. This is especially infuriating when you consider the fact that the district had the audacity to demand even more money from us in the form of a levy. Teachers refused to do their jobs for a year, and as a result, many parents found that the district was no longer providing a valuable service. Its time for the district and teachers unions to reap what they sowed

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