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News / Clark County News

Washougal schools may cut 26 positions to address deficit

District officials’ initial proposal uses survey feedback

By Doug Flanagan, Post-Record staff writer
Published: February 3, 2024, 6:02am

WASHOUGAL — The Washougal School District has an initial proposal for how it might address an expected $3 million budget shortfall ahead of the 2024-25 school year.

The proposed budget cuts, based on a community survey, would cut at least 26 teachers and other certificated staff, district and school administrators and classified staff.

The district received about 600 responses to the community survey.

District Communications and Technology Director Les Brown told school board members Jan. 24 that 60 percent of the responses were from parents and guardians, 35 percent came from staff members, 30 percent were from community members and 5 percent came from students.

“I think we had a really good response from a variety of people that are interested in what’s happening in our schools,” Brown said.

Brown said survey respondents asked the district to prioritize K-5 specialist time, special education, career and technical education, counseling and student activities and athletics; consider consolidating offices and workspaces; consider restructuring its highly capable, English language learning and dual language programs; and consider eliminating community education preschool.

The respondents also asked the district to reduce training, travel and professional development; prioritize security services, maintenance/grounds, family resource centers and technology support; increase facility use fees; consolidate bus routes; and increase meal prices.

In response, the school district has proposed reductions that would impact four to six district and building administrators, 12 to 16 teachers and certificated staff, and 10 to 13 classified staff.

The district also plans to reduce its nonstaffing costs related to utilities, supplies, travel and training by $200,000 to $500,000.

Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said feedback from the community, students and staff asked district leaders to prioritize those closest to the students in the classrooms.

“I believe this reflects that,” Templeton said. “Twelve percent (of the cuts are coming) from the administrative group. That’s a lot. But we’re prioritizing those closest to the classroom and working with students.”

District leaders project the general fund balance will drop to 5 percent of expenses by the end of the current school year and 2 percent during the 2025-26 and 2026-27 school years. The school board’s goal for the fund balance is 6 percent of expenses.

Finance Director Kris Grindy said the school district may need to make a second round of cuts.

“We will evaluate and revisit ‘round two’ based on what we know about the impact of the legislative session, (our collective) bargaining, inflation, increased utility costs and the spending forecast for the current school year,” Grindy told board members.

Enrollment declines

Washougal projects it will end the current school year with 2,659 full-time equivalent students — 21 fewer than it projected ahead of the 2023-24 school year.

District leaders eliminated several staff positions and cut individual building budgets by 75 percent last fall, in response to the lower enrollment, which equals fewer per-pupil state funds coming into the school district.

“We saw in the survey that people are frustrated because they don’t understand why we’re having budget deficits or budget issues (after) they passed the levy,” said Grindy, who added that due to lower enrollment, the district has been unable to collect the expected amount from its 2023 levy. The district was set to collect $9.5 million in 2024, but will only receive $8.8 million.

“We recognize that. I’m frustrated about that, too,” Grindy said. “It would make my life a little bit easier if we could (collect that $700,000). But it’s not legally available to us.”

Templeton thanked the district’s executive and building leadership teams, who she said accepted reduced compensation increases before the start of the 2023-24 school year in an effort to help the district save money.

“This is not forever,” Templeton said. “This is what needs to happen today in order for us to be financially solvent. Give us a little time. Let’s see if enrollment turns around in the next several years, and then we can revisit some of these conversations. But for today, this is a sacrifice that is going to get shared across the entire organization.”

The survey, on the district website and at surveymonkey.com/r/WSD-2024, will remain open through Feb. 8.

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The school board will host a listening tour from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at Washougal High School, 1201 39th St., Washougal.

Templeton will hold a superintendent’s roundtable to share information from 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 19 at the Washougal School District office, 4855 Evergreen Way.

For more information about the district’s budget, visit washougal.k12.wa.us/district-budget-information.