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News / Clark County News

Vancouver Public Schools faces $11.4 million budget deficit

School board to consider resolution on possible cuts at Tuesday meeting

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: January 7, 2019, 9:05pm

Vancouver Public Schools projects an $11.4 million budget deficit in the coming school year, and it says salary deals with teachers and educational support staff are partly to blame.

The school board will consider a resolution directing Superintendent Steve Webb to consider possible program and staff cuts in light of the expected deficit at Tuesday’s meeting. According to the resolution, the additional costs include $7.2 million “stemming from collective bargaining” with the Vancouver Education Association, as well as an additional $2.1 million reflecting the district’s offer to the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals. The VAESP has not yet ratified its contract after reaching a tentative agreement just before winter break.

The resolution estimates another $13.8 million budget deficit the following school year.

Vancouver Public Schools and other districts in the region gave their teachers significant raises last summer after teacher strikes and heated negotiations kept students out of class for days. The consternation stemmed from an influx of money into area schools, a result of school funding legislation designed to bring the state in compliance with the 2012 McCleary decision. That year, the state Supreme Court ruled the state was failing to fully fund basic education.

While teachers maintained the vast majority of the new money was for teacher salaries, districts say the multimillion-dollar contracts will force them to make budget cuts in the coming years.

Vancouver Public Schools is forecasted to receive $324,000,000 in revenue for the 2019-2020 school year. Earlier estimates suggest the district could have more than $30 million in reserve funds by the end of the year, but district spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said that budget estimate was adopted prior to VEA’s contract ratification. That means it does not include the added cost of the VEA or VAESP contracts.

Vancouver Public Schools is not the first district in Southwest Washington to announce it could pursue budget cuts in light of the contract agreements with its unions. The Daily News reported last month that the Longview School District delayed the adoption of new elementary science and social studies materials to make up half of its projected $1 million budget deficit.

Rick Wilson, executive director of the VEA, questioned why the district is choosing to adopt a resolution, saying the maintenance of the district budget is Webb’s responsibility regardless of the decision. He also questioned why the district’s bargaining units were called out by name in the document.

“Honestly, I just don’t know why they would do it this way and why they would pick the groups that they did,” Wilson said. “If there have to be cuts — and we fully expect at the VEA to be part of that discussion — that’s a much broader discussion.”

Nuzzo, however, said by email Monday that the resolution is “consistent with board policy and VEA contract language.”

“District legal counsel advised that the board adopt a reduced education program resolution that may result in a reduction in force,” she said.

If the resolution is approved, Webb and the board must make decisions about whether cuts are necessary, and what cuts need to be made, by later this spring.

The regular school board meeting starts at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Robert C. Bates Center for Educational Leadership, 2921 Falk Road.

Columbian Education Reporter