The Kelso School District on Monday proposed cutting about 16 full-time teaching positions and 16 other full-time positions, among other cuts, to balance a $4 million budget gap in 2019-20. School officials said they believe bridging the gap is possible without any layoffs or major change in class sizes.
“What’s been helpful in this process is we’ve already been able to entertain quite a few retirements and resignations to a point where we don’t think we will have to make any (layoffs),” District Finance Director Scott Westlund said Monday.
Staffing accounts for about 80 percent of the district’s overall operating budget, and district officials have repeatedly said they aim to save money by downsizing staff. However, the intention is to avoid layoffs and instead cut positions through “attrition,” or leaving positions vacated by retirements and resignations unfilled.
If the proposed plan moves forward, the district won’t have to lay off anyone and will save about $1.4 million on salary and benefit costs, said Superintendent Mary Beth Tack.
Decreased enrollment in the district also means teaching positions can be cut without greatly increasing class sizes, Westlund said. Right now, there are about 16 students per each kindergarten through third grade class, he said. (A state initiative passed in 2015 set K-3 class sizes at 17 students, starting last school year.)
“Class sizes might be slightly higher, maybe one or two students. But our class sizes have never been so low (as right now),” Westlund said. “The districtwide averages are just phenomenal, and they will remain phenomenal even if there are one or two more students in there.”
Also included among the proposed reductions are the following:
- Cut about $1 million of spending in the central office and “districtwide support,” by eliminating five full-time positions, shrinking department budgets and waiting to buy one new school bus.
- Restructure educational programs — such as special education, English language learner and learning assistance programs — and eliminate about four full-time positions in these areas to save about $728,000.
- Save about $575,000 by cutting about two full-time school administrators and about five instructional coaches, and using increased regional funding to offset costs of high school drug and alcohol counselor.
- Use about $250,000 of the budget reserve of offset reductions.
District staff put “hundreds of personnel hours” into drafting the proposal, Tack said.
“We were very intentional in making sure there was a balance between (teaching, administrative and support staff),” she said.
About 53 percent of the savings come from “classroom support,” like teachers and programs, while the other 47 percent are administrative-based.
“We’ve come up with a list of reductions and savings that is pretty comprehensive and finds a balance between the staffing areas of the school district,” Westlund said.
The district is planning to cut about 5.7 percent of its $70 million budget to make up for reduced local income caused by the “McCleary” local levy cap. The cap was part of the state Legislature’s new funding model, which increased the state’s funding to public schools, but limited how much a district can raise in local taxes.
Although the state allocation is now larger, Kelso — along with almost 100 other school districts — will earn less revenue overall. (The Washington Association of School Administrators reported in February that 93 of the 295 school districts incurred a revenue loss as a result of the new funding model.)
Kelso is facing a $4 million deficit for 2019-20 as a consequence of that levy cap.
“When you have to make $4 million in cuts, everyone will feel that pain on some level,” Tack said. “In true Kelso form, these are challenging cuts, but they are ones we will be able to move forward from, and the only way we will be able to move forward is as a Kelso team.”
Community members are invited to weigh in on the proposal using an online survey posted on the district website. The district will also host two “listening post” sessions 6 to 7:30 p.m. on April 10 and April 18 in the Kelso High School library, so community members can meet individually to discuss the cuts with a board member and district official.