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Sunday, July 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Spokane Public Schools plans fewer than expected teacher layoffs

UPDATED: Sat., June 22, 2019, 1 p.m.

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger discusses the district’s budget deficit during an interview in this May 2019 photo. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger discusses the district’s budget deficit during an interview in this May 2019 photo. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

As it turns out, far fewer teachers in Spokane Public Schools will be losing their jobs this year.

On April 11, administrators issued 183 layoff notices to cope with a budget crisis tied to the state’s new education funding model. On Friday, that number stood at 46.

The district also plans to lay off 72 classified workers, down from an original estimate of 142.

The bottom line: Of the 325 jobs that were at risk, no more than 118 will be lost. And that number is expected to drop further due to late retirements, summer resignations and other adjustments.

“Some of that is still occurring,” Brian Coddington, the district’s director of communications and public relations, said Friday. “It will be in flux all summer long.”

The other bottom line: The district now has a balanced budget of about $459 million and appears less likely to ask voters to increase taxes this fall with a supplemental levy.

The budget reflects layoffs, program cuts, extra state money and other revenue adjustments that the school board could finalize as early as next month.

Superintendent Shelley Redinger is scheduled to present her preliminary recommended budget at Wednesday’s board meeting. That document will be available for public review on July 10.

A week later, on July 17, the board will hear a budget presentation from chief financial officer Linda McDermott. After a public hearing, the board may adopt a final budget.

Passage in July would presumably lessen the possibility of putting a supplemental levy on the November ballot.

However, the board could defer action until late August, as it did last year during the teacher salary negotiations.

There are many reasons for fewer layoffs. When the district had a projected budget deficit of $43 million, administrators were compelled by the labor contract with the Spokane Education Association to give notice to anyone at risk for layoff.

Several dozen of those teachers were never in serious danger of losing their jobs, but the district had to present its budget picture at that point in time.

The Legislature has since added about $10 million to the district’s budget, while administrators moved forward with cost-cutting measures in areas such as support services, budget and accounting, payroll, campus security, custodians and maintenance, and others.

“We really emphasized going away from the classroom first,” said Coddington, who added that recent feedback from the public confirmed the district’s priorities.

Meanwhile, the district received firm numbers on federal support of Title 1 programs and state support of the Learning Assistance Program.

The district also opted to bring back several dozen elementary school teachers in an effort to escape financial penalties in 2020 for failing to comply with state requirements for class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

This year, noncompliance cost the district more than $2 million in state funding.

“K-3 is a big chunk of it, making sure that we have adequate staffing to get to that ratio,” Coddington said.

Several dozen specialized educators, including first-year North Central High School drama teacher Leah Dach, kept their jobs because they couldn’t be replaced with other staff within the district.

Many of those specialists were foreign language teachers or were employed at NewTech vocational high school in northeast Spokane.

“Those are positions that are difficult to fill,” Coddington said.

Another 17 teachers were given recall notices, but either “denied the recall offer or declined the recall offer for other reasons,” Coddington said.

Several additional jobs may be reclaimed. Kindergarten registration has begun, and higher numbers could push several elementary schools to the tipping point of needing more teachers to comply with K-3 classroom size requirements.

The district still has more work ahead, including negotiations with the teachers union. The board also has about $2 million in surplus funding that could be used to restore a few more jobs or resuscitate a program or two.

That is not expected to include restoration of school librarians, who were laid off or reassigned to other positions.

Elimination of the librarians meant that elementary school teachers took on library duties with their class, costing them required prep time.

The district addressed that problem by proposing that elementary schools dismiss all students 75 minutes early, every Friday.

“It does create a domino effect,” Coddington said. “We’ve gotten to the point now where Linda (McDermott) and her team have pretty tightly forecast the budget.”

“But from the revenue side and the expense side of things, we’re to the point now where if you make a move in one area it has an impact somewhere else,” Coddington said.

Another variable is the teachers union, which is due for a new three-year contract before the school year starts. The board held several closed-door meetings this spring to discuss collective-bargaining strategies.

Last year, with a year to go in a three-year contract, the SEA won salary increases averaging 13.2% in the wake of the McCleary decision.

All parties expect minimal pay hikes this time. “The climate has changed,” SEA President Katy Henry said earlier this year.

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