Sequim schools plan cuts to staff

District aims to reduce force by 28 positions

SEQUIM — Sequim school leaders have agreed to eliminate more than 28 full-time-equivalent positions in a move to save about $2.7 million from the general fund.

Sequim School District’s board of directors unanimously agreed Monday to a resolution authorizing Superintendent Regan Nickels to make reductions as necessary, as she outlined recommendations that would affect 37 employees.

”I know that these are real difficult decisions; no one wants to be in this situation,” board director Patrice Johnston said.

“Ultimately, our job is to be in a sound budget footing. Sometimes that requires hard decisions.”

“The Board hereby authorizes the Superintendent to make the most efficient use of public funds and resources and take such action as necessary to restructure, reorganize and/or reduce classified support staffing and programs,” the resolution stated.

The district will handle a number of the cuts by not replacing staffers who have informed the district they are retiring, resigning or taking leave, including all 11 certificated (teaching) staff FTEs, but a number of employees — nine paraeducators, three custodians, two clerical workers and one each at the district and transportation offices — are seeing their jobs eliminated for the 2024-25 school year, Nickels said.

“All 295 districts [in the state] are getting hit with something like this,” board director Larry Jeffryes said. “Some are very draconian, in my opinion. Given our current situation, [we’re] doing the best we can to make the best of it.”

The cuts to personnel, known as a reduction in force (RIF), will save the school district about $2.75 million and help bring the district’s general fund to about 5 percent of its anticipated budget of about $50 million next school year, Nickels said.

“This is about people; when you face a RIF, it is never easy,” she said. “Their performance and commitment to us has been very strong. The decisions that are being made for are reasons that are purely financial.”

About 82 percent of the Sequim School District’s expenditures each year come from personnel, Nickels noted.

The Sequim superintendent said the drop in enrollment during COVID-19 and its slow return to pre-COVID levels has had a major effect on the budget.

Nickels also said state funding doesn’t align for the staff the school district needs.

“The number of apportioned doesn’t match the number of employees we felt we’ve needed over time,” Nickels said. “We wouldn’t have hired folks if we didn’t feel we needed them.”

Board president Eric Pickens said he hopes Sequim can help those whose positions were eliminated find work.

“I want to make sure we give folks an avenue [for work],” he said, noting Port Angeles School District’s open paraeducator positions, as well as opportunities for some to serve as substitute teachers in Sequim.

Washington state schools receive funding per student, known as apportionment, and Sequim is projected to receive about $8.6 million less than its budget from those funds. The district gets about $7.7 million in local levy dollars, producing a $1.4 million gap.

In addition, Nickels noted, the district will see the end of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) funds, federal funding designed to supplement school district funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the district is expecting $2 million in required salary increases in 2024-25.

The district is obligated to keep between 4 percent and 6 percent of its budget in the general fund, Nickels noted; the $2.75 million in cuts will put the district at about 5 percent.

Total anticipated cuts include 11 certificated staff; 9.5 paraeducators; 2.8 district staff, 2.5 custodial staff; 2.0 clerical staffers and a 0.5 FTE from transportation.

“This is one of the hardest things a board member has to do,” board director Maren Halverson said.

Long-range planning

Nickels on Monday gave board directors an update on a long-range facilities committee formed to look at the needs of Sequim school buildings and assets.

The district will this week to host certified assessors who will walk through each of the district’s buildings and ask questions of staff.

The facility group members, Nickels said, look to help school staff consider the age, modernization needs and what needs should be prioritized among facilities not currently be assisted with the current capital projects levy.

Committee members’ names will be posted soon on the Sequim School District website (sequimschools.org), Nickels said, so community members can offer their thoughts and recommendations to the group.

________

Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other newspapers Peninsula News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

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