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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Budget problems force school employee layoffs

Kristen Kromer Staff writer

As area school districts continue to struggle with declining enrollment and increased expenses, Spokane Public Schools plans to lay off nine certificated employees, and the East Valley School District has already sent layoff notices to 12 teachers.

“It’s the first time in decades that any Spokane (Schools) teachers have received (reduction-in-force) letters,” said Barb Wright, assistant superintendent of human resources for Spokane Public Schools. “This is not a happy time at all.”

Last year, East Valley sent out seven reduction-in-force letters, and was able to re-hire all seven employees.

In Spokane Schools, the letters will likely go out to seven social workers and two high school business teachers. By law, district officials must notify certificated teachers by May 15 if their contract won’t be continued the following year.

As Spokane Schools wrestles with about $2 million of a $6 million-total budget problem — the district already has identified $4 million worth of savings — officials have held community forums to collect input on which programs or positions the public would rather see eliminated. One option was the reduction/reassignment of the social workers. Even though no budget decisions have been made, Wright said, the district had to send out RIF letters to social workers to preserve the option of their reassignment as a budget solution.

With five special education specialists planning to retire, the district will create five new “instructional support services specialist” positions. People in those positions will provide a variety of services to students, instead of the very specific things the specialists did.

Officials plan to fill the new positions with five of the laid-off social workers, Wright said.

The social workers, who were assigned to different programs at schools throughout the district, were targeted for layoffs because they are a small, self-contained group.

“In eliminating that program, there are no other employment implications for others,” Wright said. “It doesn’t trigger transfers in the district.”

The business teachers were chosen because the district has gradually become overstaffed in business education — fewer students are choosing professional/technical courses and fewer students need to take a keyboarding class in high school.

“Kids do that now in second grade,” Wright said.

Since business teachers are usually qualified to teach classes other than business, many have already been reassigned as positions become available in their schools.

Through voluntary and involuntary transfers, and not filling positions that come open due to retirement, Spokane Schools has already reduced next year’s teaching staff by 60 people.

Jan Beauchamp, assistant superintendent of academic affairs for the East Valley School District, said layoff notices went out May 1 to 12 teachers with the least seniority.

Recent census data showed the district has fewer families in poverty than in years past. That resulted in a reduction in federal Title I money, which provides extra academic support for children from low-income families. Since officials are unsure of exactly how much less money they’ll be getting, they don’t yet know whether they’ll be able to hire back some of the laid-off employees.

Many other Spokane-area school districts will be reducing their teaching forces through attrition, and will not have to send out lay-off notices.

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