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South Whidbey schools cut five teaching positions

The cuts keep coming. Next year, the South Whidbey School District will employ five fewer teachers.

Declining enrollment has led to decreased funding seven years in a row. The district issued other budget-reducing measures by trimming the amount of hours for some positions, and the transportation and maintenance supervisor position was cut.

“It’s painful at this point to lose anything,” said District Superintendent Jo Moccia.

“We don’t lose students in convenient ways.”

Two of the teachers, Jan McNeely and Gene Koffkin, retired. Their positions, however, are not being filled by new teachers.

Two teachers will take leave next year, including third-grade teacher Caroline Bippart, who will teach in Beirut, Lebanon. South Whidbey High School science teacher Jay Freundlich is leaving South Whidbey schools for the Waldorf School in Seattle. While the district did not outright lay off the positions because the five teaching positions cut were resigning or retiring, teachers union officials for South Whidbey Education Association were dismayed by the outcome.

“While the union understands declining enrollment and lack of funding, we will continue to fight on the local and state level for what’s best for kids and their education,” said union co-presidents Jan McNeely and Val Brown in a joint statement.

“There were some reductions to programs, so some teachers saw a reduction of their positions. With a reduction in programs, there was also reduction in force. The RIF (reduction in force) happens by seniority.”

Other South End teachers will see the reduction in force through a cut in how many hours or days they will work next school year. About 100 fewer students are expected to enroll in the school district that had about 1,450 students this year, which means about $1 million less for the $15 million revenue.

“It’s difficult to predict sometimes what families and students will do,” Moccia said.

The transportation and maintenance supervisor position, held by Kevin Lungren, will be eliminated. All duties previously run by the transportation and maintenance supervisor will be shared by Moccia and Dan Poolman, the business director. About $300,000 in reductions to classified positions such as para-educators and custodians were also made.

The school district is in the process of consolidating some of its facilities. The district’s alternative high school program will move from Bayview School to the South Whidbey Primary Campus and join with Whidbey Island Academy to become the kindergarten through 12th grade South Whidbey Academy. The district’s office on Camano Avenue next to the middle school will be closed and available for rent. All district personnel will move to the transportation center on Maxwelton Road.

Through pending improvements to the district’s operations, and specifically its energy efficiency through new lighting, heating and cooling systems, about $100,000 will be saved annually. This year, the district won a state-funded grant for the upgrades and repairs.

“If we cut $100,000 a year, we keep two teachers in the classroom,” Moccia said.

South Whidbey High School is developing a way for students to cross-credit in a single class. The hope, Moccia said, is that by reducing the amount of courses needed, positions may be saved and students can then have increased flexibility in their course planning.

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