An anticipated decline in enrollment at Battle Ground Public Schools next year led to the district’s board of directors approval of a resolution to drop close to 58 full-time equivalent staff positions, though teachers leaving the district and unknowns from Washington’s lawmaking session may reduce the number of layoffs needed.
During its April 26 meeting, the school board voted 3-2 to approve the reduction. According to documents provided to the board members, the reduction stemmed from an estimated drop in student enrollment of 1,320 in the 2021-2022 school year, or about 10 percent of the district’s current number.
The reduction in certificated staff includes 25 classroom teachers in K-4, six K-4 specialists, 10 classroom teachers in grades 5-8, two 5-8 specialists, three alternative learning environment staff, and about 12 high school positions, according to board documents.
Board members Mary Snitily, Troy McCoy, and Mark Watrin voted to approve the reduction, while Rob Henrikson and Jackie Maddux voted against it.
The decision was met with public pushback from several who spoke at the meeting, including district educators. Battle Ground High School English Department Chair Heather Smithline urged the district to use the maximum allowable funding to avoid the staff cuts, acknowledging those who have been in the district for a long time are familiar with the reduction in staff “cycle” in prior years.
“But these cuts that are being proposed today are so much deeper than the ones that I have seen before,” Smithline said.
She said her department would lose three teachers, with one of them having been employed with the district for 11 years.
“The best thing we can do for the social-emotional health of our kids is to keep these teachers in our school,” Smithline said.
Battle Ground Education Association President Fiona Engebretson said approval of the reduction would prove the board was “morally bankrupt.”
“We do not need to lose any of these people,” Engebretson said.
BGPS Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Shelly Whitten said the reduction approved was the “worst-case scenario” for the district. Whitten said with retirements, resignations, leaves of absence, and long-term substitutes, the number of layoffs would be about half of what was approved if other funding opportunities did not come through.
Whitten noted some bills passed by the Washington State Legislature will have budgetary impacts on the district. The legislative session ended the day before the meeting, which made the decision to reduce staff a timing issue, BGPS Assistant Superintendent Denny Waters noted. The district had to make a decision in time to notify the affected staff before May 15, which put BGPS in a situation where it had to make a call before all the potential impacts at the state level were known.
“It’s hard to disagree that these cuts are difficult, that they are painful, that they result in us losing great teachers. We recognize that. It’s terrible,” Waters said. “But at the same time we have to make these decisions when we don’t have all the information in front of us.”
According to board documents, total savings from the reductions would amount to close to $4.8 million. Waters said that even with the reduction, the district was dipping into more than $8 million of its reserve fund.
Acknowledging it might not be fiscally responsible on the board’s part, Maddux proposed reducing the district’s minimum fund balance to allow for the teachers anticipated to be cut to stay with BGPS.
“This has been an incredibly crazy year. Our teachers have gone above and beyond to get our students taught,” Maddux said, adding she was concerned that losing teachers who had developed relationships with students would exacerbate learning loss experienced during remote schooling.
Waters said the fund balance can affect the district’s bond rating. He also noted the district still has to pass a property tax levy this year following the failure to pass in February.
“There is still the levy hanging over us,” Waters said. “I would like to say ‘spend (the reserves) now because we’re going to pass the levy,’ but if we don’t pass the levy, and we spend it all now, we’ll go into — not next year but the following year — big, big, big trouble.”