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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Central Valley provides notices to dozens of teachers their contracts may not be renewed amid 2023-2024 budget talks

Central Valley High School, located at 821 S. Sullivan Road in Spokane Valley, photographed on Jan. 9, 2022.  (Jonathan Brunt/The Spokesman-Review)
Central Valley High School, located at 821 S. Sullivan Road in Spokane Valley, photographed on Jan. 9, 2022. (Jonathan Brunt/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Roughly 90 teachers in the Central Valley School District were told this week they might not have jobs next school year as the district looks to navigate a tight budget.

The verbal notification regarding contracts for the 2023-2024 school year is the start of a budget process that won’t be finalized until after the state Legislature completes its work funding schools across the state later this spring, said district officials and the head of the union for Central Valley teachers. It’s the second time in the past several years the district, which serves roughly 14,500 students, has notified some of its teachers on provisional contracts they may not be rehired due to financial constraints.

“It’s not something we want to repeat, and we are,” said Tim Nootenboom, associate superintendent for Central Valley schools. In 2019, following a state Supreme Court decision that altered the way local districts and the state funded education, Central Valley passed a budget that cut 60 positions.

This time, the biggest contributor to the potential staff reductions is an end of federal assistance that was given out to districts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER.

“We had our reductions, we calibrated and we got back in alignment,” Nootenboom said. “Then we had the variable of the pandemic.”

School budgets are funded by a combination of federal, state and local dollars, and even after that budget was passed, the actual loss of positions was closer to 31 that fall, said Wally Watson, president of the union representing the district’s teachers, the Central Valley Education Association.

“Any number that is higher than one is not good to me,” said Watson, who pointed to flat enrollment at the district and the increasing costs of staff and services as reasons for the financial straits of Central Valley.

Watson noted the district is not alone in its potential belt-tightening. The Bellevue School District in Western Washington has publicly floated closing up to seven public elementary schools as enrollment figures tumble.

School closures are not on the table at Central Valley.

Spokane Public Schools is not notifying its provisional teachers of any potential non-renewals as of Thursday, a district spokeswoman confirmed.

The notices do not mean all those teachers, who are in the first three years of teaching at the district, are done working there, Nootenboom said. The district also has not yet issued any formal notices of nonrenewal, which are required to provisional teachers under state law by May 15, he said.

“We don’t have that finalized yet,” Nootenboom said. The Washington Legislature is considering several bills that would add funds to support special education, transportation and other school services, but what money is available from Olympia won’t be clear until the session adjourns April 23, unless the session is extended.

Providing the notification allows teachers who might be up for nonrenewal to make future arrangements, Nootenboom said. He noted that, of those who lost their jobs during the 2019 budget process, the district had hired a majority back within the next two years.

Watson said the true effect of the shifting finances wouldn’t be clear for several weeks.

“We are the first ones that are kind of going public,” Watson said, of the notification of potential staff reduction ahead. “Many districts are facing this.”

Watson also believed that high quality instruction at the district would continue, no matter the outcome of the budget talks.

“We offer the best education in the state here, and that will continue to happen,” he said. “These are excellent teachers, they’re young teachers, and I want to get them back as soon as possible.”

On Thursday evening, Central Valley Superintendent John Parker issued a message to families promising transparency in the process of determining staffing levels for the 2023-2024 school year.

“As a school district, we will continue to do what is necessary to get the district back on a sustainable path, post-ESSER and post-pandemic, so there is less likelihood of facing this challenge again,” Parker wrote. “I am incredibly grateful to the leaders and teachers in our schools during this process, and I have complete confidence that we can get through this challenge together.”

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