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School district gives 37 workers layoff notices

The South Whidbey School District, bowing to the realities of declining enrollment and a $1.9 million budget shortfall, mailed potential layoff notices to 37 employees this week.

Of the total, 18 notices went to certificated staff in grades six through 12, eight went to alternative staff from Whidbey Island Academy and Bayview School, and 11 notices went to kindergarten through fifth-grade staff.

“This is not a matter of job performance,” said District Superintendent Fred McCarthy. “It is a matter of reduced revenue, union seniority and reduced program needs as a result of significant enrollment decline.”

McCarthy said the reductions were governed by seniority and the provisions of the workers’ collective bargaining agreement. Workers were notified on April 14 of possible reductions.

The news was tough to take.

“Those on the list were devastated, especially given the current economic climate,” said South Whidbey teachers’ union co-president Jan McNeely. “It’s not like they can go down the road and get a job somewhere else.”

“Certificated” employees include teachers, librarians and counselors. “Classified” employees are secretaries, custodians and other support staff.

The list of those who may lose jobs is preliminary, officials said.

“Our contract with the teachers’ union requires that we notify them that there is a possibility their contract won’t be renewed in the fall,” said district business manager Dan Poolman. “The actual reduction-in-force list — the final cut — will be sent out on May 15.”

Poolman said that those who made the list were generally the youngest and least experienced persons within a particular program; arts, history, counseling, math and so forth.

But McNeely said the years of experience ranged from 0.133 to 18.7 years.

“The names of those who appeared on the list were not in any way based on their performance,” she said.

“The total is about one-third of our teachers. We knew this was coming, but no one expected 37 names,” McNeely said.

The South Whidbey Education Association is sponsoring a “50/50” event — 50 parents and 50 teachers — to talk about preserving jobs at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 5 in Grigware Hall at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

“In light of these possible drastic cuts, we are asking all parents and community members who are interested in looking at creative ways to save teachers to join us on May 5, which is also National Teacher Day,” McNeely added.

School officials are forecasting a reduction of 139 students for the school year that begins in September, resulting in an overall 11 percent budget reduction.

The combination of declining enrollment and a recession has forced the district to make some very tough decisions, McCarthy said.

After cuts in programs and belt-tightening in other areas, the roughly $1.3 million shortfall must be resolved from employee layoffs, since they represent 83 percent of the district’s annual budget.

McCarthy noted that the economy has caused the decline to accelerate and, because the state’s revenue is based on sales and property taxes, the state government has less money to give schools.

The school district will hold a community forum next week to solicit recommendations and suggestions as to how the district can move forward in the face of declining student enrollment, shrinking budgets and fragile facilities. The meeting is 8:30 a.m. Saturday, April 25 in the high school commons.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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