Edmonds School Board discusses strategic plan, approves replacement levy for ballot

The Edmonds School Board at its Nov. 9 business meeting began reviewing the district’s 2021-2026 strategic plan, received an update about the current school year and also endorsed a replacement levy to be placed before voters next year.

Directors unanimously approved putting a replacement educational programs and operations levy on the Feb. 8, 2022, ballot. According to the district, the education levy bridges the gap to cover costs not provided by state or federal dollars and is its second-largest revenue source, making up approximately 15% of the budgeted general fund. It renews the expiring levy of $1.49 per $1,000 of assessed property value that voters approved in 2018 and allocates funding for four additional years through the 2026-2027 school year.

If approved by voters, the replacement levy would maintain a consistent tax rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value as part of taxes to be collected beginning in 2023. The school district said in a Tuesday night news release that if the levy does not pass it would mean significant reductions in staff, programs and services for students.

The levy helps pay for nurses, counselors, teaching assistants, technology support staff, and custodians. It funds elective classes and enrichment programs, special education staff and services for students, along with extracurricular programs such as art, drama, music and athletics.

“The levy funds programs like high-quality fine arts and performing arts, athletics, college in the high school, STEM, International Baccalaureate and more than four times the number of nurses the state funds for our district,” Balderas said in a statement. “These critical programs and services are an investment in our students and their future.”

Several on the board noted they were excited about the levy and stressed how crucial those funds are for the district.

Director Nancy Katims said when the school district communicates information about the levy to the public, “It’s very important that the community understands that this is not a new tax that we’re voting on and that it’s essential for the funding of many of the things that we don’t currently get funding for from the state or federal governments. It’s a replacement of the tax that we’ve had previously and it will be staying at the same or a similar level.”

For more information about the levy or to learn about participating in a pro or con committee, visit the Education Levy website here.

In other business, the school district’s 2021-2026 strategic plan was presented to the board for a first reading. Directors will have a chance to provide further feedback at their Nov. 23 meeting.

“One of the things we talk a lot about in our district is having a collective north star and understanding of a clear direction to where we’re heading,” Balderas said. “That’s something that a strategic plan does provide and we expect it to be fluid — if things morph and change we need to adapt and we will — but we do need a strategic plan for that collective north star.”

The plan serves to guide the district in achieving equity, engagement and excellence for all students. It outlines specific goals with a focus on students and committing to collaborations with staff, families and the larger community. While developing the strategic plan over the past few years, the district hosted multiple listening and work sessions with students, staff, families, community members and the school board.

Dr. Balderas noted the plan is very intentional in its objectives and actions. “I think one of the critical elements is having kids be able to define their own success,” he added. “Having the opportunity for kids to be engaged in something that they’re passionate about, that they care about, and the goal is by the time they get to their 13th year that they are able to define their own success and we provided them the opportunities along the way to have the skills so they can be successful in whatever that definition (is).”

Concerning student goals, the plan states: “Our expectation is that each and every student graduates ready for success at the next level in school, career, and global citizenship.” The plan’s objectives include creating a safe, inclusive learning environment that promotes a sense of belonging for each student each year.

Those strategies include integrating and organizing a continuum of academic, behavioral, social and emotional instruction along with providing the necessary support for those in each school. Adopting and teaching rigorous and culturally affirming curricula to meet the cultural, linguistic, and learning needs of the district’s diverse student population. Ensuring that multilingual students have access to academically rigorous along with culturally and linguistically affirming core instruction. And collaborating so that each and every student has equitable access and opportunities to engage in academic pathways that reflect their long-term goals.

Other student-focused objectives in the plan include:

– Ensure that upon the completion of kindergarten, every student is ready to begin first grade.

– Make certain every student is at or above their grade level for math and reading from kindergarten through grade 12.

– Increase the overall percentage of students graduating on time to at least 94% by 2026.

For employees, the plan seeks to:

– Provide staff members with professional development across departments on inclusive, equitable and culturally affirming practices for students and families from diverse backgrounds.

– Diversify its workforce by recruiting and hiring staff members to reflect the diversity of the district’s student population along with developing a similar action plan in order to retain and support staff members of color.

– Increase the work satisfaction of employees by providing support and helping them to meet their own goals for professional growth and student improvement efforts to achieve defined student goals and outcomes.

The plan also calls for embracing reciprocal partnerships with community members in ways that will also honor and respect their cultural and lived experiences. It acknowledges that families and caretakers are the experts when it comes to their children and seeks to partner with them in order to nurture the academic, social and emotional growth of students. Those objectives include:

– Creating and implementing communication plans both at the district level and for each school and/or program that provide specific opportunities accessible in multiple formats and languages so that families and community members can feel informed and provide feedback.

– Building and maintaining trust with families and communities through partnerships and creating sustainable systems and safe spaces for listening, dialogue and actions that hold the district accountable to those parties.

Balderas noted the strategic plan is meant to serve as a living document and Tuesday night’s first reading was meant to give the school board an initial look at its high-level objectives, with board approval to be sought later this month. The goal is to complete the plan by the end of the year, “and then continue to work in terms of our priorities so we can frame up those action plans underneath the broader goals,” he said.

School board directors were mostly supportive of the plan Tuesday night, although they added that there were various redundancies or inconsistencies in language that could possibly be cleaned up and/or rephrased to make it easier for people to read and comprehend.

“It’s my sense that we’re very close to something that the board would be able to approve,” Kilgore said, possibly at the next meeting.

Also on Tuesday, the board unanimously approved the School Improvement Plan that was presented at its Sept. 28 meeting.

Human Resources Director Debby Carter updates the school board on district staffing needs.

During a status update on the current school year, the board was informed that the district is still facing staffing shortages across a variety of areas – available substitute teacher positions and paraeducators were noted as particular needs. It is also seeking to hire nurses, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and office personnel.

District staff reported they were looking forward to the ongoing community efforts to vaccinate children ages 5-11 against COVID-19, which was recently approved for that age group. The school district is partnering to hold its first onsite vaccination clinic this weekend at Meadowdale High School, which has already filled all of its appointments, and also hopes to hold more such events as additional shots are available for Snohomish County residents.

“We are continuing to work with Snohomish County Health and other partners to try and get vaccines into our kids’ arms, but also on our building sites,” Balderas said.

Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen noted that the county’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 residents has recently declined by 15% over the past 14 days — although Snohomish County’s rates are declining slower than other parts of the state. It’s “good progress,” she said, but added that “we’d still like that to be a lot lower and we hope with the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds as it gets rolled out that that will continue to decline.”

Geaslen said the county is currently receiving about 7,500 doses of the vaccine each week and “the projection is one in seven 5- to 11-year-olds in Snohomish County will have the opportunity to get vaccinated.” The district will continue to partner with other community organizations to help get the word out and “to get as many vaccines available to our families as possible,” she said.

In the past month, the Edmonds School District has provided an average of 61 PCR tests per day for COVID-19. There have been 199 positive COVID-19 cases, one school closure, 10 classroom closures and two extracurricular closures, and staff has investigated 1,659 close-contact exposures and 705 people have been quarantined.

A change has recently been made to the district’s policy concerning students and staff identified as having come in close contact with the COVID-19 virus who aren’t fully vaccinated and don’t have symptoms of the virus. The new option allows them to return to school/work after a week of isolation if they get a medically verified COVID-19 test on either day five, six, or seven that comes back negative, which the district can verify.

Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen provides a COVID-19 update.

In other business, the board approved the district’s 2022 state legislative platform. Six areas identified as priorities for communication to stte legislators include equity in education through updated staffing allocations, transportation, levy reform, fully funding special education, addressing funding mechanisms used for school facilities, and supporting investments for schools in environmental sustainability measures such as funding for electric buses and retrofitting old buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Board directors approved a budget increase authorization of $1 million for procurement of equipment for the HVAC, lighting and roof upgrades project at the Educational Service Center. Due to nationwide equipment shortages and delays in delivery, it was determined that certain HVAC equipment needs to be purchased immediately to ensure it can be delivered for installation in summer 2022. The project’s total preliminary budget stands at $2.1 million after the increase and it is funded by the 2020 capital levy.

The board also agreed to an additional budget authorization of $1 million for the district’s 2021 safety and security upgrades project. That project is intended to update infrastructure, provide training to school administrators on new security systems and also assess the perimeter security at each facility. It also includes replacing obsolete hardware, software and associated licensing districtwide. The money approved will complete the first portion of upgrades and brings the total project’s budget for this school year to $1.75 million as allocated in the 2020 levy.

It also gave uniform consent to a resolution concerning the certification of 2022 excess property taxes. When the school district established the 2021-22 budget, it included a levy collection of nearly $55.4 million that was based on an earlier Consumer Price Index (CPI) forecast. However, the current annual CPI is higher than what was projected, resulting in a levy of slightly more than $57 million. This is still lower than the voter-approved authorization of $78.5 million and required a “levy rollback.” The board is required by law to adopt a resolution certifying the updated levy amount.

Items approved on the board’s consent agenda included nearly $272,000 toward the purchase of new Chromebooks for all paraeducators. The devices are replaced every four years under the district’s technology replacement plan. Consequently, the board also approved declaring 1,916 district Chromebooks as surplus to be traded in for parts credit, which will be used to offset ongoing maintenance costs. In addition, 36 copiers that needed to be replaced were approved for surplus.

During Tuesday night’s final comments, several board directors said they were pleased with the overall direction the district is moving in and felt glad to be addressing its future plans including its five-year strategic plan, updating the School Improvement Plan, and approving the upcoming funding levy and legislative platform.

“I think we did four really important things tonight that really represent what the role of the board is,” Katims said. “For the first time since the pandemic started, I feel like I see this light at the end of the tunnel just reflected in these four really major things we did on the agenda tonight,” and it “brings hope that we’re getting back to the ‘real work’ of the school district.”

— By Nathan Blackwell

 

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