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Feb. 29, 2020

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VPS plans cuts to cover $8 million deficit

Chair of district task force warns use of one-time money from state lacks foresight

By , Columbian Education Reporter

Vancouver Public Schools unveiled its final slate of proposed budget cuts but warned its budget is likely unsustainable without new revenue.

The 23,000-student school district on Friday announced it is facing an $8 million budget deficit after an injection of new state money. That’s down from the $16.8 million projected earlier this year. The district is receiving new state money due to the 2019-2021 state budget, including $6.5 million in one-time funding secured by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.

The district has proposed using $3.75 million from its ending fund balance, or financial reserves, and recommended the following cuts:

• Eliminating 10 teachers on special assignment (usually teachers who mentor or support classroom teachers) for a nearly $1.3 million savings. Those teachers would return to regular classroom teaching.

• Cutting central office and support service budgets by 5 percent, or $1.2 million.

• A 15 percent reduction in central administrative positions for $800,000.

• Cutting five central office professional-technical positions for $450,000 in savings.

• Cutting professional development travel in half, or by $400,000.

• Eliminating one grounds maintenance position at $75,000.

• Cutting a wing clerk from Skyview High School for $58,608 in savings.

The district said it compiled the final recommendations after hearing from more than 1,800 people who participated in a district survey, and collected testimony at board meetings and in emails to Superintendent Steve Webb and the school board. Rick Wilson, executive director of the Vancouver Education Association, said by email Friday that he is “very pleased that the district is listening to their employee and community input to preserve important student services.”

The district also consulted with its Management Task Force, a district committee of business owners, local government and education officials, nonprofit organizers and neighborhood association leaders. The committee also includes parents and others who live in the school district.

John McDonagh, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, chairs the committee. In a news release, McDonagh warned that while the budget cuts reflect the community’s feedback, the committee is concerned that the use of one-time money only pushes the problem down the road to next year.

“We advise the superintendent and his team to identify a sustainable revenue source, including a possible supplemental levy measure, to meet the district’s financial needs in 2020-2021 and beyond,” he said.

Vancouver Public Schools voters approved a levy under the new state school funding model in February, capped at $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value. Legislators, however, approved a levy lid lift this session, allowing school districts to collect up to $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed value.

Vancouver Public Schools would need to get voter approval for a separate levy in order to collect more money under the new law. Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver, warned against raising the levy lid, saying it would create “another McCleary situation.”

Lawmakers have spent the better part of the last decade grappling with school funding after the state Supreme Court ruled the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund public education. The landmark McCleary case was closed last year after the Supreme Court ruled the state’s new funding model was sufficiently paying for schools.

“We’ll just end up with the same disparity,” Harris said of the levy lid lift last month. “This was not the way to do it.”

The district will host a budget workshop at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Robert C. Bates Center for Educational Leadership, 2921 Falk Road, Vancouver. The workshop is open to the public. A public hearing on the budget is set for August.