Vancouver Public Schools will furlough hundreds of classified employees and reduce hours for others due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The school board unanimously approved temporary layoffs for 447 employees and reduced hours for another 182. The cuts affect bus drivers, secretaries, clerks, food service workers, paraeducators and district security officers. Special education paraeducators will not be affected by the cuts.
The employees will receive two weeks of notice beginning Wednesday. Furloughed employees will keep their health benefits and be eligible for unemployment.
The reductions will take effect Sept. 23, but district officials say they hope to begin bringing staff back as students return for in-person instruction. If public health data suggests a return is safe, elementary-aged students could begin returning to the classroom part-time as soon as Sept. 29.
“These reductions are gut-wrenchingly painful,” Superintendent Steve Webb said. “I wish none of them were necessary. These employees are friends, colleagues and champions for children.”
Vancouver Public Schools joins districts in the county in making substantial cuts, pointing both to the fact that there is less need for non-teaching employees because students are not in the building, as well as the projected budgetary hits they face. Vancouver Public Schools is projecting a $16 million shortfall due to the pandemic, according to a district news release.
Webb pointed out that enrollment has dropped significantly at Vancouver Public Schools, with parents opting to homeschool, enroll their children in private programs or wait another year to enroll their kindergartners.
Webb also lambasted the federal government, saying lawmakers have failed to provide adequate support to school districts struggling to provide education to all students at a distance.
“I am extremely frustrated and disappointed in the failure of our national leadership to do what’s right for our nation’s children and the public education system,” Webb said. “Our students, their families and public schools throughout the U.S. are being abandoned.”
School board members also expressed their dismay at having to make cuts.
“It’s disappointing to start the year this way,” director Kyle Sproul said of the classified employees affected by the furloughs. “I recognize … they support the students, and this will have an impact on our students and our families.”