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News / Clark County News

Evergreen staff, community members question district budget cuts

Meeting attendees focus on district’s commitment to equity, student support systems

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 14, 2023, 9:42pm
6 Photos
An audience members holds up a sign in support of athletic directors Tuesday during an Evergreen Public Schools meeting at Evergreen Public Schools headquarters.
An audience members holds up a sign in support of athletic directors Tuesday during an Evergreen Public Schools meeting at Evergreen Public Schools headquarters. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A standing-room-only crowd at Tuesday evening’s Evergreen Public Schools Board of Directors meeting spoke out against last week’s announcement of budget reductions, which included cuts to support and intervention staff, athletic directors and teacher librarians.

Like many others who spoke during the meeting’s public comment section, Lindy Forrest argued that the district’s decided cuts ran counter to their goals of prioritizing equity and classroom supports for students.

“You say we’re all in this together, but it’s all on the people who are actually in the buildings,” said Forrest, a third grade teacher at Ellsworth Elementary School. “Saying that you’re making cuts furthest from students just couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Evergreen is poised to cut an estimated $19 million for the 2023-2024 school year. Union leaders said last week that the nature of the cuts came as a surprise and that they weren’t given a substantial opportunity to speak with district leaders about their priorities.

The crowd was likely the largest Evergreen has seen at a board meeting this school year, with staff moving to set up chairs in the hallway and lobby outside the meeting room for those who weren’t able to get a seat.

Some attendees held signs, many of expressing support for athletic directors and teacher-librarians. Students, too, spoke out for their athletic directors, sharing stories of how sports had helped shape their education experience.

“My daughter came home from school saying librarians were being cut, I told her, ‘No way,’” said Rachel Drake, a parent in the district. “The next day she came home and said she heard there might not be sports. And that made me break down.”

Deeper look at reductions

Superintendent John Boyd preceded the public comment section with an acknowledgement that he understood the cuts will inevitably hurt the Evergreen community.

“There’s no positive way to (make) $19 million in budget cuts,” Boyd said. “Our expenditures have been outpacing revenue in recent years, but thanks to (one-time federal stimulus funding), we did not have to make major cuts during the peak of the pandemic. But we have to take corrective action now.”

In their presentation of the budget reductions, Boyd and other district leaders attributed the reasoning for the cuts to inflation, the expiration of ESSER funding, a 13.8 percent enrollment decrease over the past six years and the need to maintain a 5 percent fund balance from year to year. He called on state legislators to fully fund educational mandates and provide additional financial support for transportation and special education, specifically.

In recent years, Evergreen’s expenditures have outpaced its revenue. The district estimates that inflation is contributing to an increase of $12.8 million in expenditures for next year, a significant factor in the need to reduce the budget.

District leaders also shared details behind the ThoughtExchange survey they conducted in January to hear community feedback on what participants felt were the biggest budget priorities going forward.

According to Boyd, the survey polled 846 participants made up of staff, community members and students. Priorities included keeping the cuts “farthest from classrooms” as possible. He said the decisions were then made utilizing the district’s equity lens to prioritize students who are “farthest from educational justice.”

Community reactions

Dozens of parents, staff and community members signed up for public comment, sharing stories of struggles in the classroom, at home and beyond. They said cuts to positions such as academic interventionists, at-risk advocates and family community resource center staff don’t reflect a usage of the district’s “equity lens,” a decision making component implemented in recent years to prioritize how budget and policy changes may adversely affect students of color or students from marginalized populations.

“When I see the thought process established in these decisions, I do not see the (equity lens),” said Paul Porter, an at-risk advocate and basketball coach at Evergreen High School. “I do not see how the elimination of these positions reflects that, if anything I see the mere opposite. …Your actions have to match your words.”

Porter said he was stunned when he received the email last week saying his position would be cut. He immediately reached out to ask questions about the process and the factors considered in cutting his position and those of others who often work closest with students of color.

10 Photos
Lindy Forrest gives a virtual public comment Tuesday, March 14, 2023, during an Evergreen Public Schools meeting at Evergreen Public Schools Headquarters.
Community responds to Evergreen cuts Photo Gallery

“I felt it was highly inappropriate,” Porter said. “They talk about seeking community feedback, but I haven’t been able to get any answers about whether there were any other options.”

Other speakers drew attention to the cuts of family-community resource coordinator positions — roles that help provide referrals to housing and job assistance programs for at-risk families, clothing and food items for children and more. Melanie Green, an administrator within the district’s family-community resource centers, said the cuts would halve her staff and reduce their work to “crisis triage.”

“Schools have become more than just a place for our youth to learn. For many, it is where they have breakfast, lunch, access to clothing items and many others that lead them to success,” said Michelle Gascon, a homeless student advocate in the district. “School is their shelter, and school is their stability. Though our enrollment has decreased, our number of homeless students has increased, highlighting that our families are in crisis.”

Board has questions, too

Board member Ginny Gronwoldt, too, pressed Boyd on how these proposed cuts and previous cuts will honor the district’s purported commitment to equity and its most vulnerable students.

“My biggest concern moving forward is, what are the thoughts about learning loss? How are we going to support students when we cut academic interventionists?” Gronwoldt asked. “We are suffering because we are not being funded for special education. Do we have a plan? Do we have goals for how we’re getting there?”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Boyd said.

Before the end of the school year, the district will provide staff with details about the status of their positions going forward. The board will make a decision about whether to accept the superintendent’s proposed budget in August.