Tuesday, March 21, 2023
March 21, 2023

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Evergreen Public Schools athletic directors react to news their jobs will be cut

ADs at Evergreen, Heritage, Union and Mountain View high schools included in district's staff reductions

By , Columbian staff writer
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Daily baseball practice at Heritage High School has been the bright spot from what Jason Castro calls the worst week of his 20-year career in education.

“It’s what I look forward to the most every single day,” said Castro, Heritage’s athletic director and head baseball coach. “It’s definitely been a blessing. I don’t know where I’d be right now if I wasn’t able to go and have three hours of release and just go have fun.”

Days after learning athletic director jobs at Evergreen Public Schools’ four comprehensive high schools — Evergreen, Heritage, Mountain View and Union — will be cut in 2023-2024, the four men who occupy those positions are still reeling from the news. Their jobs are four of 140 to be eliminated, as the district faces a $19.1 million budget deficit next school year. Superintendent John Boyd will present the recommendations at the March 14 school board meeting.

This is Castro’s second year as Heritage’s AD, and jokes in baseball terms he’s batting 2 for 2 when it comes to his position in a state of flux. High school athletic director positions also were scheduled to be eliminated had Evergreen voters not passed the educational programs and operations levy in April 2022.

So, why were AD jobs targeted again less than a year later, if the levy passing saved those positions? District athletic director Cale Piland couldn’t say, but added, “There’s no easy way to cut $19 million out of a budget … I don’t envy the people in our system who had to make those decisions.

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The Evergreen Public Schools Administrative Service Center is pictured in east Vancouver.
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“I have nothing but respect for those four guys. They’re great building ADs. It’s just unfortunate.”

Piland oversees athletics from a district lens. He said Evergreen Public Schools is in the early stages of determining how and where responsibilities will be absorbed within remaining school staff for next school year. A popular model at other districts is tying AD jobs to in-building administrative positions. Neighboring large districts, such as Vancouver and Battle Ground, have associate principals or other staffers who double as athletic directors.

That’s the position Castro had for five years at Prairie High School before coming to Heritage in 2021. As associate principal at Prairie, he oversaw student discipline and performed classroom teacher evaluations. Then there were AD duties — leading to a minimum of 60-hour workweeks, he said.

For Jamal McKenzie, Union’s first-year athletic director, he called being the Titans’ AD “a dream job” only to be cut short less than a year in. He was part of the inaugural staff at Union as a security guard when it opened in 2007 before choosing to go the school administration route.

As disappointed as McKenzie is in the district’s decision, he already knows what the loss of a full-time AD will have on athletes, coaches and the overall product of Union athletics. McKenzie oversees up to 600 athletes and 82 coaches, but knows where the impact is felt most.

“It’s the kids,” he said. “It’s the trickle-down effect. There’s things that we do, and that we create, whether it’s programming, scheduling, facilities, the kids are going to be the ones who miss out on those opportunities.”

The other two athletic directors — Adam Mathieson at Mountain View and Christian Swain at Evergreen — declined to comment. Both men also are their school’s head football coach.

All athletic director jobs are different, but the list of responsibilities isn’t short. It includes game scheduling, transportation, hirings and firings, eligibility, grade checks, budgeting, event supervision, lining up referees and officials, overseeing facilities and maintenance and maintaining relationships with everybody from coaches and athletes to parents and community members — just to name a few.

Leta Meyer, a retired Evergreen Public Schools athletic director and coach who spent 20 years as Heritage’s AD and 36 years in the district, can’t understand the district’s call. She initially expressed her disappointment and frustration on social media Tuesday night.

“You’re taking the heart out of the athletic programs,” Meyer told The Columbian on Thursday. “It’s not a good decision for athletics in the Evergreen school district. Look at how successful so many of our programs are. When you make budget cuts, you want to make cuts that are not impacting kids, but that’s not happening.”

Meyer called EPS not only a leader in athletics locally, but also on a state level dating back years. Recently, all four schools now have home turfed fields for football/soccer and baseball and softball. The district also went to a full-time athletic director model in 2007.

In fact, that was one of the attractions for Castro jumping to Heritage.

“By simply having that model,” he said, “is the commitment to saying that sports are extremely important and we want to do it in a first-class way here.”

District spokesperson Craig Birnbach told The Columbian this week the 140 full-time equivalent positions being cut doesn’t necessarily mean staff members will be unemployed. Depending on certifications and seniority, he said, other jobs could be offered.

Castro said Thursday it’s been radio silence from the district office since the four ADs learned from their schools’ principals at noon Monday their jobs would be cut. Both he and McKenzie said they’re not anticipating being employed elsewhere in the district this fall.