Other districts around state face teacher layoffs
The Methow Valley School District is hiring.
In an ordinary year, that wouldn’t be so newsworthy. But this year, school districts across the state are making painful decisions about how many teachers and other employees to lay off because the state eliminated some of the funding schools collect from local property owners.
A last-minute deal in the state Legislature before it adjourned on April 28 eased local levy limits somewhat, but not enough to help Methow Valley and some other school districts.
The Methow Valley schools are losing $312,000 from what would have been $1.9 million in local levy collections this year and anticipate a loss of about $250,000 out of $1.95 million next year, Superintendent Tom Venable said. The blow to next year’s budget was softened because Methow Valley added 44 new students this school year. Local levy collections are capped at $2,500 per student. Changes to the levy cap enacted in Olympia last month to reduce the pain for school districts did not alter the formula applied to Methow Valley schools.
The Legislature ostensibly is trying to help school districts by significantly increasing the money coming from state coffers while capping local levies so that richer school districts don’t gain an unfair advantage. But the result of the new funding formulas has been to put districts across the state in a budget squeeze, if not a crisis.
After the new system went into effect, teachers’ unions across the state negotiated raises that in many cases exceeded any funding increases districts received, according to League of Education Voters, a nonpartisan lobbying group in Washington state.
“We were certainly challenged by the cap placed on local levies,” Venable said, but he added that Methow Valley avoided layoffs.
Elsewhere, the state-imposed cap caused the Edmonds School District in Snohomish County to lose $19.2 million from its levy collections. That district is facing a $17.7 million budget shortfall and will lay off as many as 45 teachers, in addition to paraeducators and assistant principals.
The even larger Spokane School District was expecting to lay off 244 employees due to its budget crunch, or about one out of 16 full-time positions.
Meanwhile, in the Methow Valley, the district is adding a third-grade teacher and filling vacancies at high school counselor and nurse. Other districts are avoiding layoffs by choosing not to fill vacant positions.
“We worked hard with teachers and classified staff to negotiate modest increases in comparison to what others received elsewhere … in the interest of what’s good for the kids,” Venable said. The superintendent added that teacher pay will increase over time to maintain “a fair and livable wage.”
David Aspholm, president of the local teachers’ union the Methow Valley Education Association, said he agreed with Venable’s statement but took issue with the League of Education Voters’ characterization of the budget problem.
“The issue was not that (in other districts) the teachers negotiated salaries that broke the bank,” Aspholm said in an email. He contended that the state law that sets funding and minimum requirements for education “is out of touch with the realities and societal demands placed on public schools.”
In other news:
• Liberty Bell High School ranked 18th out of 656 schools in Washington state in the US News and World Report’s “2019 Best High Schools” ranking, putting it in the top 3% statewide. The ranking is based on college readiness, graduation rates, AP test results and scoring on state assessments — with an eye to the performance of disadvantaged students.
• The School Board recently approved the calendar for the 2019-20 school year. The first day of school will be Tuesday, Sept. 3. The last day of school is scheduled for June 11, 2020, with June 12 set aside as a snow make-up day, if needed.