Local schools cutting positions to combat budgetary shotfalls

Stephen Floyd

The Winlock School District is expecting to eliminate nine full-time-equivalent teaching positions and one full-time-equivalent administrative position for the 2013-2014 school year in light of continued decreases in enrollment and state funding.

Having suffered a 7.8% enrollment drop below projections for the current year, Superintendent Shannon Criss said the continuing trend of low enrollment and shrinking state funds has taken its toll on the district.

"I believe that the anticipated economic condition of the district, due to dropping enrollment and state uncertainty, will require that a reduction be made for the next school year," said Criss to the District Board during their April 24 meeting, assuring them administrators are "working hard to build a schedule that still offers electives and higher-level classes for our students."

Criss said the goal of balancing the budget must still come before curriculum and program offerings, stating administrators are using a "fine-toothed comb" to examine where cuts can be made appropriately.

"This is always the tough part of the job, being the fiscal agent for the district," stated Criss.

Across the freeway, the Toledo School District Board is also expecting a financial shortfall, and voted to eliminate one full-time-equivalent teaching position during their meeting Thursday. While they may not be feeling the pinch as much as Winlock, Toledo Superintendent Sharon Bowers said both districts are being plagued by the same inaction by state legislators who have yet to approve next year’s budget.

"There’s lot of promises out there, but we aren’t sure if any of them are going to come true," said Bowers of budget policies proposed in Olympia, where she lobbies for schools on a regular basis. "And we’re not sure where the money’s coming from, if they do live up to those promises."

On Jan. 5 of last year, state lawmakers were directed by the State Supreme Court to adequately fund public education as a result of their ruling on McCleary vs. State, which interpreted Washington’s Constitution to define education as the State’s highest fiscal priority. Neither the House, nor the Senate, nor the Governor have yet to propose budgets capable of fulfilling the court’s mandate, and legislators are expected to need a special session this summer to continue hashing out funding issues, according to Criss and Bowers.

Meanwhile, no specific positions or departments in Winlock or Toledo were named as likely to receive cuts, and affected employees will be notified by May 15. While they may receive a callback if the financial outlook of their district improves, Bowers said instructors are often quick to seek employment elsewhere instead of wait for their old positions to become available.