(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
Three classified positions cut for the rest of the year…
The Chewelah School District is facing a shortfall between revenues and expenses, meaning it will have to make some layoffs and cutbacks for the remaining part of the school year to cover a $215,000 deficit.
“Our budget is 85 percent people and the rest is mostly going to heat, light, maintenance and our facilities and equipment, fuel and insurance,” Chewelah Superintendent Rich McFarland said to the school district last week. “There is very, very little that can be identified as discretionary and we will of course look there first for any savings that we can squeeze out. The bottom line is that we are forced to reduce our workforce.”
Staff members were called together last week where they learned that one secretary, print shop and custodial job would be reduced for the rest of the year. McFarland took a pay cut worth $3,235 in salary and benefits to help with the cost savings.
With this first round of budget cutbacks, about $25,600 will be reduced from the current budget. The dropping of one secretary will save $12,767 in salary and benfits, while the dropping of the print shop position will save $3,638 and the custodial position cutback will save $5,949.
If these positions are not filled next year, it will save the school district a total of $119,582.
“This will be a difficult and emotional issue and it will hurt,” McFarland said. “Good, hardworking people will face uncertainty in their employment with Chewelah School District. Some staff may be laid off with no opportunities to work in other positions in our district.”
The cutbacks come after the state’s McCleary decision to fully fund education in the state. The state legislation’s decision to fully fund education instead of districts relying on local property levies created a windfall of $2 billion in funds for schools.
This had the side effect of sparking contentious negotiations across the state for both teacher and classified staff unions for more pay. With budgeting models from the state still uncertain, school districts like Chewelah grappled with a conundrum: The state increased the statewide property tax-rate to pay for education, but limited the amount that districts can raise through local levies.
This means that Chewelah and other schools will see declining local levy funds and unclear funding from the state from year to year – making it hard to budget in advance. Combine this with enrollment that fluctuates, and an increase in special services the district has to provide, and budgets have become a big source of handwringing both locally and in other districts across the state. Vancouver, for example, recently announced it would be reducing 50 teaching positions, saying it was the McCleary Decision that caused it.
While Chewelah is not reducing any teaching positions, it is scrambling to cover the deficit.
“The administrative team and the business office staff have been working early and late to comb through both our revenue and expenditures,” McFarland said. “We are working to identify as much flexibility in both basic education funds and categorical funds.”