Budget woes may force teacher layoffs this spring

LANGLEY — The realities of another budget shortfall are coming home to roost as the South Whidbey School District gets ready to hand out pink slips to teachers next month.

“We will be cutting staff right out of the chute,” District Superintendent Fred McCarthy told the school board Wednesday.

“We’re anticipating less money from the state as we continue to lose students, 120 fewer next year, representing about $5,400 per child,” he said.

First notices to teachers will be posted on April 15.

The actual reduction-in-force (RIF) list — the final cut — will be sent out on May 15. The contract with the teachers’ union requires that the district notify teachers if there is a possibility their contracts won’t be renewed in the fall.

The complex RIF process allows the district to offer teachers and other certificated employees a position different from their current assignments.

For example, should an employee be laid off at the high school, that person could be rehired to teach a similar subject — for which he or she is fully qualified — or be recalled to teach fewer classes.

Of course, that window begins to draw shut as the district’s very real budget problems back administrators into a corner.

How many teachers and who will be on the list isn’t known yet.

Last year’s $1.85 million shortfall was partially offset by raiding the district’s reserve fund and curriculum money, but there’s precious little financial safety net this time around.

“This year, we are projecting a reduction of $1.5 million to $1.8 million — that’s $3 million over two years out of a $17 million budget — and the result will be fewer staff, both certified and classified,” McCarthy said.

A “certificated” employee includes teachers, librarians and counselors.

“Classified” employees are secretaries, custodians, food service personnel and other support staff.

In 2009, the district sent 15 full-time and 15 part-time RIF notices and McCarthy said this year the situation will be worse.

After cuts in programs and belt-tightening in other areas, the deficit must be resolved by employee layoffs, since employees represent 83 percent of the district’s annual budget.

During the past three years, the actual number of teachers in the district has declined from 112 to 99, while associated staff have been cut from 78 to 68.

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 to schools.

The exodus has already begun.

“We will not be replacing two administrators who have resigned, effective in June,” McCarthy said.

South Whidbey High School principal Rob Prosch resigned in February to pursue personal interests, and director of teaching and learning Mike Johnson has accepted a position with the Arlington School District.

Business manager Dan Poolman explained that the loss of 11 students over the past month equates to a loss to the district of $59,000 — in one month.

“Our best estimate was that we would end the year with 1,619 students enrolled in all buildings, but it now looks like an average of 1,597,” he said.

Poolman’s revenue analysis through February showed a drop of $406,000 in state allocation from enrollment, and a loss of $428,000 from Initiative-728 money.

In November 2000, Washington state voters approved an initiative — called I-728 — to use lottery-based funds for schools.

However, that money has long since been funneled into the state’s general fund by the Legislature.

The next school board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 21 at the South Whidbey Elementary School community room on Maxwelton Road in Langley.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbey

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