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Longview school board passes budget, hears teacher concerns over vaccines

Coronavirus safety signs

COVID-19 safety reminder signs hang in all Longview School District buildings.

The Longview School Board unanimously approved the 2021-2022 $108 million budget Monday night and heard concerns about the state’s kindergarten through 12th-grade vaccine mandate.

Teacher Michelle Hutcheson said she has worked for the district for nearly eight years and is “heartbroken that the district is supporting any mandate that goes against our constitutional rights.”

“I have worked hard on my career for years for it to come to this?” she told the board. “I love my job, the students and seeing them succeed. You want me to choose between my career and an unconstitutional mandate?”

Hutcheson said she reacted so poorly to a flu shot last year she ended up in the hospital and “I can’t risk a similar reaction to the COVID vaccine.”

She asked the board to “graciously say no” to the mandate.

State law provides for OSPI to withhold funds for 'noncompliance'

Kindergarten teacher Brittany Pruitt said she agreed with Hutcheson.

“I am vaccinated, but I do believe it should be a choice,” she said. “We are taking choices away and now it’s going to inhibit our children. We don’t even know how many teachers and paras and staff we’re going to lose. We already have a shortage.”

She said teachers have a lot of questions and are not getting answers.

“I don’t understand where we’re supposed to go from here,” she said, adding that the mandate has made the workplace “very divisive.”

“People are judging the ones who got it and are judging the ones who didn’t get it,” she said. “I was hoping to go into this year with unity.”

Board President Don Wiitala emphasized the vaccine mandate comes from the governor “so we don’t have an option on that.”

However, board member Crystal Moldenhauer urged the board to “stand up as a board to stick up for our teachers and their right to choose.”

Longview will follow state rules on masks following 4-1 vote Monday

“I know a lot of us see differently and a lot of us are vaccinated, but that choice to do that was just that — our personal choice,” she said.

She asked the board to come together and take action, for example by writing a letter, or “anything to show our teachers that we stand up for their right to choose.”

Vice President Jennifer Leach said the board was “not elected to make the decision for public health” and that any citizens with concerns should contact the governor’s office.

The board did not take any action based on Moldenhauer’s request at Monday’s meeting.

2021-2022 budget

Included in the budget for the next school year is approximately $9.9 million in expected federal emergency relief funds earmarked for safety and technology; learning loss, both academic and social-emotional; facilities; and operational stabilization, such as replacing enrollment loss.

Longview's $108 million school budget puts emergency funds to tech, safety

Overall, the 2021-2022 budget outlines spending $53.1 million on classroom basic education, $14 million on administration and support, $15.6 on special education, $3.4 million on food service and $3 million on transportation. The district expects to spend about $18.6 in grants or other specialized programs, like Career and Technical Education (CTE), the bilingual program and the highly capable program.

The district will also have to pay about $100,000 more in risk insurance than last year. However, it is expected to get about $2.4 million more when the new levy rate voters approved goes into effect.

About 80% of the district’s expenditures is salaries. In 2021, that will be about $42.5 million for certificated staff, such as teachers, $18.4 million for classified staff and $25.3 million in benefits.

The district also projects paying about $12.3 million for supplies.

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