Has long-time ties to district, community
Scotti Wiltse has innovative ideas for getting students excited about learning. As a school bus driver for the Pateros School District decades ago, she organized a reading program to keep kids entertained on long bus rides. During breaks in the route, she also helped them with homework.
Wiltse later taught math, science and technology for 15 years, the first five in Brewster and the rest in Pateros. For the past four years, she’s been the federal and state programs director for the Pateros district, writing and overseeing grants.
In July, Wiltse is stepping into a new role in a recently combined position as the Pateros School District’s superintendent/principal.
Although Wiltse has spent most of her career in education, she originally studied to be a pilot. After she became a school bus driver, she discovered her passion for education and went back to school to become a teacher. She later obtained her administrative certification.
Wiltse’s connection to the district has especially deep roots. She grew up on a horse ranch on Gold Creek and French Creek and was the fourth generation from her family to graduate from Pateros High School.
Wiltse starts the new job at an especially challenging time for Pateros. Seven employees — five paraeducators, a bus driver and a custodian — were laid off in February, and the district plans to lay off five teachers next year. The personnel cuts were made to address a budget shortfall caused when the district overestimated projected enrollment by 61 students for the 2022-23 school year.
Wiltse acknowledged that addressing the district’s financial troubles will be extremely difficult, but she’s ready for the battle, she said. “I’m bursting at the seams — there are so many things I want to see at the Pateros School District,” she said.
The district is still working out details of staffing for next year. With just one teacher per grade, the district expects to have to combine some classes. But interim superintendent Mike Parker said they don’t intend to eliminate any positions where there’s just one person, such as the music teacher or school counselor. Parker was hired in November after former Superintendent Greg Goodnight, who had planned to retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year, left earlier because of health issues. When Parker started the job, the enrollment numbers immediately raised questions.
Wiltse expects that sorting things out will be a work in progress. “There’s a big snowball effect, and it takes a while to settle out,” she said.
In the small school district, with just one class per grade and a current student body of 248, the expectation that 326 students would start the school year in September was far off. Enrollment at the end of the 2021-22 school year was 295.
On top of that, actual enrollment declined by about 30 students between last year and September, Parker said. Since then, enrollment has fallen by another six students.
It isn’t clear why the district anticipated 31 additional students in the fall. While some grades have larger classes — this year started with 31 kindergarteners and 22 first-graders— others are quite small, with just 11 second-graders and nine fourth-graders.
The annual state allocation is about $12,000 per student, so the difference represented a significant hit to Pateros’ budget. Because more than 80% of a school district’s expenses are for personnel, that was the only place to make cuts, Parker said.
Combining the superintendent and principal jobs will save about $121,000.
‘All about the kids’
Despite the challenges of the past year, the district has a lot going for it — the community is really supportive, and the schools have a low teacher-student ratio and a close-knit family feeling, Wiltse said. Teachers and other staff members know the students “inside and out and backward and forward” and are dedicated to helping each student find his or her gifts and passion for learning, she said.
They have a peer mentoring program and, with all grades in one building, there are many opportunities for connections between younger and older students.
Although she’s been active on the district’s leadership team, this will be Wiltse’s first time as an administrator. But Wiltse likes working with multiple groups and being involved in many things at once. And she brings experience from close collaboration with Parker and with Goodnight.
The Pateros School Board also interviewed Kim Spacek, superintendent at the Inchelium School District, for the job. Current Pateros principal Susan James wanted to remain a school-level administrator and was therefore not a candidate for the combined position, Parker said.
Pateros has an amazing staff and people’s hearts are in the right place, Wiltse said. “The kids are amazing, and they all seem excited and are looking forward to next year. It’s all about them,” she said.
New gym mezzanine
The entire Pateros community celebrated completion of a new mezzanine in the gym at a ribbon cutting last week. Voters approved a $411,000 tax levy for the upgrades in 2019.