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News / Clark County News

Fort Vancouver students walk out of class to protest district staff reductions

District’s lowest-income high school expected to see most positions cut

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 19, 2024, 3:28pm
7 Photos
Vancouver Public Schools superintendent Jeff Snell, center, talks to Fort Vancouver High School students on Tuesday during the students&rsquo; walk-out to protest the district&rsquo;s cuts to 262 staff positions next year.
Vancouver Public Schools superintendent Jeff Snell, center, talks to Fort Vancouver High School students on Tuesday during the students’ walk-out to protest the district’s cuts to 262 staff positions next year. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Hundreds of Fort Vancouver High School students walked out of class late Tuesday morning, protesting district staffing cuts they say will disproportionately impact their school next year.

“This is just going to put more of a load on other teachers, which would limit our overall learning experience,” said senior Jose Gomez, who was advocating for an English teacher he heard was being cut next year. “It’s important to have role models, to have teachers that we can relate to.”

Last week, the Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors approved $35 million in budget cuts, amounting to a loss of 262 staff members districtwide. District leaders said at last week’s board meeting the cuts were the district’s only option to address a deficit they blamed on inadequate state funding, the exhaustion of pandemic-era relief funding and rampant inflation.

Fort Vancouver High School is set to lose nearly a dozen staff members. The school is the most racially diverse high school in the district — and has the highest percentage of low-income students.

18 Photos
Fort Vancouver High School students begin their march from the school to Vancouver Public Schools Headquarters on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2024, during a walk-out to protest the district’s cuts to 262 staff positions next year.
Fort Vancouver High School Walkout Photo Gallery

Staff whose positions are being cut were informed Friday, staff said.

Students walked out about 11:45 a.m. and made their way to the district administrative services center at 2901 Falk Road — more than a mile away — by 12:30 p.m. Once at district headquarters, students chanted “save our staff” and “fund our future.”

Inside, district leaders had just taken a break from negotiating with Vancouver Education Association leaders on a new collective bargaining agreement. The union’s current contract is set to expire in August.

“It’s pretty incredible. It goes to show that our students have a voice, and it’s important to honor it,” said union President Jamie Anderson, who had stepped outside from the meeting to watch the students. “When we talk about having the mutual interest of our students at heart this is what we mean.”

Organizing

Athiena Ghormley, a senior at Fort who last week helped plan the walkout, said staff are students’ “biggest supporters.”

In the days since the cuts were approved, she said, she’s worked to learn from staff exactly what the effects will be so she can help educate other students.

“I never would’ve expected this big of a turnout, but it’s so important to me to see how many underclassmen care about the teachers we’re losing,” Ghormley said. “Kids are curious about these issues, and I don’t mind repeating myself to them.”

Ghormley reiterated that frustration among students doesn’t stem solely from the need for reductions — rather they feel the strategy of prioritizing seniority will harm newer, younger, teachers of color.

“We are a school that really benefits from the support of our staff members, they really understand the diversity of our school,” Ghormley said. “To lose those perspectives really hurts us.”

Superintendent Jeff Snell said Tuesday he understands the students’ frustrations but again emphasized staff reductions were unavoidable.

“I can understand our students’ frustration. These are amazing staff who have built strong relationships and care deeply about our students. It’s powerful to see students advocating for them,” Snell said.

“I’m grateful to our school board who prioritized these staff the past two years avoiding reductions by using reserve funds and federal pandemic relief dollars to sustain our staffing model. I’m frustrated that we can’t delay the reductions any longer and that we didn’t get more support from the state in this legislative session to fund the gap between what it costs to run a school district and what the state provides.”

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