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News / Clark County News

Battle Ground schools could eliminate nearly 60 jobs due to falling enrollment

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 27, 2021, 7:31pm

Battle Ground Public Schools could eliminate close to 60 certificated staff for next school year because of declining student enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board Monday night approved a resolution that would allow it to cut 57.7 full-time equivalent certificated teacher, specialist and administrative positions to save the district $4.79 million.

Those numbers are: 25 primary teachers and six specialists; 10 middle school teachers and two specialists; 11.7 positions between Battle Ground and Prairie high schools, three positions at River HomeLink, and a director and building administrator.

The resolution passed 3-2 after nearly 90 minutes of discussions between board members and district staff. Voting in favor were Mark Watrin, Troy McCoy and Mary Snitily. Jackie Maddux and Rob Hendrikson were opposed.

Shelly Whitten, assistant superintendent for human resources, called the number figure a “worse-case scenario” and added it includes positions that would go unfilled due to leave of absences, retirements and resignations.

“We are hopeful this number will continue to reduce,” Whitten told board members Monday.

Superintendent Mark Ross informed staff before Monday’s board meeting of cuts as a result of a “significant drop” in enrollment across the district because of the ongoing pandemic. The district is projecting a total enrollment of 11,918 for 2021-22, a loss of 1,320 students. The drop in students equates to a loss of $12 million in state funding.

Ross stressed the difficult decisions to remain fiscally responsible and accountable are surrounded by unknowns, including financial implications from the state legislature, ESSER funding through the CARES Act, and Battle Ground’s levy.

The district received $6.9 million the first two rounds of ESSER funds, and it is estimated to receive $12.3 million for the next round, according to data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. But Ross said it must prioritize the funding toward pandemic-related expenses.

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Conversations among board members with district administrative staff about the resolution included questions on using the district’s reserve fund to preserve staff numbers. Whitten called their reduction in force numbers a “happy medium” since it doesn’t decimate the district’s fund balance.

However, deputy superintendent Denny Waters, who takes over as superintendent July 1, cautioned about what lingers over the district’s head: its levy. The district plans to run its levy again later this year after it was rejected by Battle Ground voters during February’s special election.

“I’d like to say spend it all now,” Waters said. “We have to save some of that just in case (of a double-levy failure) and recognize that.”

The majority of public comments surrounded the district’s reduction in force plan.

Fiona Engebretson, president of the Battle Ground Education Association and veteran educator in the district, said the projected loss of the certificate staff is immeasurable and concluded by saying if the board voted to approve the resolution, it’d be “morally bankrupt.”

“I know the district often says we don’t have the money,” Engebretson said, “yet you do.”

Longtime educator Heather Smithline told board members Monday night the projected staff reduction is “so much deeper than I’ve seen before.” She stressed to the board to make staffing a priority and how the projected loss of three teachers ranging from six to 11 years of experience in her English department at Prairie would impact students.

“The best thing we can do for the social emotional health of our kids is to keep these teachers in our school,” Smithline said.

Said Waters: “It’s hard to disagree. These cuts are difficult. They are painful and they result in us losing great teachers. We recognize that. That’s terrible, but at the same time, it’s hard to make these decisions without having all the information in front of us.”