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News / Clark County News

Proposed budget reductions shock Evergreen Public Schools staff

More than $19 million in cuts largely target teachers, support staff

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 9, 2023, 4:26pm

News of impending budget reductions in Evergreen Public Schools circulating this week is being met with shock and frustration by teachers and community members, who say the reductions don’t match the district’s goals to prioritize equity and protect students.

The recommended reductions for the 2023-2024 school year, which amount to an estimated $19.14 million and/or 140 full-time equivalent positions, appear to mostly target staff at the elementary and secondary level.

Among the cuts identified are 11 teacher librarians at the secondary level, 23 certificated staff positions across every level and four athletic directors.

The district also appears to be making reductions in positions that focus on equity and work directly with at-risk or low-income families, such as full-time equivalent funding for 10 family resources coordinators, 20.8 elementary academic interventionist positions and 7.7 at-risk advocate positions.

Evergreen cuts

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“We’re concerned about the negative impact the proposed cuts will have on students and staff in Evergreen,” said Kristie Peak, the president of the Evergreen Education Association, the union that represents certificated classroom teachers in the district.

“Members have already communicated, at multiple school board meetings, a serious need for more staffing and supports to meet the numerous unique needs of our students.”

The district said the reductions will likely result in some job losses and employees being offered a chance to shift into different roles in the district — the specifics on such changes are to be determined in the next few weeks.

Reasoning behind the cuts

District spokesperson Craig Birnbach said Thursday that the cuts can be attributed to a continued enrollment decline, the sunsetting of pandemic-era federal stabilization funding, declining levy stabilization funding, inflation and more.

Last year, after the first attempt at passing a replacement educational operations levy failed, the district said it made sacrifices in adjustments to the measure to ensure it would have a better chance of passing a second time.

“(A double failure) would have resulted in the district having to make much more severe cuts for this school year and the 2023-24 school year,” Birnbach said. “If the levy didn’t pass, the 2023-24 reductions would have been much more severe, as in tens of millions of dollars more.”

Evergreen invited union leaders and community members to attend a Dec. 13 board workshop focused on budget planning for the following year. Birnbach also said students, staff and families were invited to share thoughts on budget priorities via an interactive survey, ThoughtExchange.

Peak said that though the union was aware of impending reductions, they were “not involved in the process or made aware of where those cuts would happen or how they would occur.”

Mindy Troffer-Cooper, the president of the Public School Employees Large Group union, which represents classified staff such as paraeducators and bus drivers in the district, also said the reductions came by surprise.

“I didn’t even know about the cuts until I had (union) members calling me. We are supposed to be a partnership, and I knew nothing about this,” Troffer-Cooper said. “They said they were trying to keep these cuts as far away from students as possible. How is this equitable?”

Staff reiterate concern for equity

At a Jan. 17 board meeting, then-interim superintendent John Boyd reiterated that equity would be a guiding light for decision-making in the district were he to be appointed for the permanent role. The Evergreen board of directors appointed Boyd to serve as the permanent superintendent less than a month later on Feb. 14.

“We’ve sat down and started to have some conversations about what it looks like to be able to have equity as part of everything we do,” Boyd said in the January meeting. “That’s the goal, and I know we’re far from that, but it’s going to be everybody’s job.”

Last year, Evergreen employees questioned the district’s commitment to equity after budget reductions included the elimination of a handful of positions within the diversity, equity and inclusion department. This week, the sentiment has been similar.

“They say there’s such a huge focus on equity, and they are cutting positions that are literally centered around equity,” said Tara Celustka, a teacher librarian at Wy’east Middle School.

Celustka said that cuts to librarians were also particularly shocking following a 2020 library audit that awarded school libraries with thousands of dollars in funding to reshape library collections to include more authors and stories of color.

“The new books were selected with equity and diversity in mind in order to better reflect the diversity of our students. Librarians can’t wait to get these books in the hands of our students!” said a district Facebook post on Jan. 8, 2021.

Celustka now worries that libraries will lose some of their functionality and may no longer be able to provide the assistance to students that is sometimes already overlooked.

“A lot of media assistants are telling me saying they don’t feel qualified,” she said. “It makes libraries become simply book check-ins and check-outs. It’s a lot bigger of an entity in a school than just that, and that’s where it becomes an equity issue, we’re taking away that support from kids.”

Reactions on social media

On Facebook, some staff are spreading a petition to have academic interventionists positions retained, arguing that the loss of their positions will disproportionately affect the district’s most vulnerable students.

“The decision to cut intervention teachers is reinforcing systems of oppression because it will disproportionately affect students of color, multilingual students and students with reading disabilities or difficulties,” reads a petition written by Evergreen academic interventionists Mary Elias, Kelly Jones and Nikki Jonas. Elias, who has worked in the district for 20 years, said her role as an interventionist serves students who have suffered learning losses in math or reading — a population of students that’s especially diverse and has grown since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Other posts are encouraging community members to speak out against the cuts at next week’s board meeting, at which the district said Boyd is set to speak in more detail about the nature and process behind the reductions.

The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Evergreen’s District Office, 13413 NE LeRoy Haagen Memorial Drive in Vancouver.

“The district’s perceived needs for cuts, at a time when students are coming to us with dramatically increasing needs for academic and social emotional support, is disheartening,” said Peak, the teachers union president.