District mulls cutting teachers as budget deficit looms

Limits on property tax funds threaten 43 district employees with layoffs

By Nolan DeGarlais

The Edmonds School District, facing a $17.7 million budget deficit in the 2019-2020 school year, announced that staffing cuts must be made to balance the budget. Under the plan adopted by the ESD Board of Directors during a May 8 meeting, 43 full-time district employees will face termination. Teachers, paraeducators and administrative staff up to elementary-level assistant principals — over half of whom are in their first three years of employment with the district — all face being laid off.

In addition to the layoffs, several vacant district positions will not be filled. These positions include groundskeepers, a special education data-processing specialist, a technology support specialist and three custodians. The proposed budget would also eliminate $2.5 million in supplies and operations while also eliminating 300 daily hours for paraeducators, who assist classroom teachers and students with disabilities.

While the district has acknowledged the severity of layoffs, officials claim that their options are limited by the fact that 88 percent of the ESD budget goes to employee salaries and benefits.  

“We’ve been working hard at ‘How do we find 17.7 [million dollars]?’ with already a very lean budget,” ESD Superintendent Kris McDuffy said at a “Conversations with Kris” meeting held in the MTHS library on April 18.

The final decision on the budget for the next school year is expected to be made at the School Board meeting at 6:30 p.m. on May 14 at the ESD’s Educational Services Center. If the layoffs are finalized at the meeting, the laid-off staff will be notified by the district on May 15, the state-mandated deadline for teachers to be notified of layoffs. At the meeting, community input is encouraged from both district families and staff members.

“Every employee group is being impacted to some degree,” McDuffy said at the meeting.

Every employee group is being impacted to some degree.”

— Kris McDuffy

Before the School Board approves the budget, a variety of other factors must still be considered, such the number as resigning or retiring staff members, future district enrollment and projected classroom sizes. According to McDuffy, around 145 ESD employees retire or resign each year, but these numbers are expected to be lower in the 2019-2020 school year. If this number increases by August, the district would consider recalling some of the terminated employees.

The district projects there “will not be an increase” in enrollment in the coming years, which means that the district will likely not receive more funding from the state to accommodate higher staffing needs. Additionally, if the district projects decreased enrollment in future years, state funding may be cut further.

Many of the issues with school funding can be traced to a decision by the state legislature in 2018 that limited the amount of money that school districts can collect from voter-approved property taxes. Before this decision in 2018, the district collected around $67 million in property taxes, but in 2019 only $47 million can be collected due to the “property tax levy lid”. While the state legislature has agreed to take action towards raising the levy lid, it will not be enough to close the ESD’s funding gap.

The levy cap results from the state legislature’s response to the 2012 McCleary decision by the Washington Supreme Court, which found that Washington state was not providing schools with ample funding for basic education. The legislature’s solution involved an increase in statewide property taxes to fund school districts, but this was accompanied by a reduction in the amount of money that districts could raise from these taxes. Districts, as a result, will lose millions of dollars that fund programs deemed unnecessary to the basic education requirement.

Among surrounding school districts, including the Everett, Lake Stevens and Marysville school districts, the ESD is the only district facing layoffs for the 2019-2020 school year. Concerns have been raised about the increasing class sizes that will result from the layoffs of teachers, with the Washington Education Association warning that many larger classes could exceed 30 students.