Washougal School District leaders say they have “some difficult financial waters to navigate” in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The state has a $9 billion shortfall for the next several years, and seeing as how public education funding makes up 50 percent of the state budget, we know that we’re going to be facing some significant revenue reductions, so we’re planning for a shortfall as we put together our budgets,” Washougal schools superintendent Mary Templeton said. “We don’t have all of the details yet, but we’re planning to staff conservatively and be as as flexible as possible.”
The district’s business manager, Kris Grindy, presented a preliminary overview of the district’s budget for the 2020-21 school year during a virtual board of directors meeting on June 23.
The $48.8 million budget includes salaries and benefits for 18 administrative workers, 208 certificated staff members and 142 classified employees. The budget also predicts student enrollment of 3,010 for the 2020-21 school year.
“We have a plan to achieve budget stabilization,” Grindy said. “Over the next four years, we’ll continue to tighten our belts by working toward resource efficiency; align resources with vision statements for knowing, nurturing and challenging students; keep our promise by (retaining) our staff and programs in 2020-21; actively seek additional funding sources to support current innovative program opportunities; and continue to make progress toward the prototypical alignment. By 2023-24, our plan is to reduce our reliance on deficit spending to a more manageable amount.”
The district and its teachers’ union, the Washougal Education Association, have been bargaining for a new teachers’ contract for several weeks.
“We are moving forward and optimistic,” Templeton said. “Both parties are committed to finding agreement as quickly as possible, and we’re making progress.”
WSD leaders discuss back-to-school scenarios
In early June, Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said he expects all school districts in the state to reopen buildings and return to in-person learning in the fall of 2020.
Templeton said Washougal School District leaders have three scenarios for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, depending on COVID-19 pandemic conditions and state regulations in place at that time: continuing the distance-learning programs implemented in March; introducing a “shifting schedule” model that would allow groups of students to rotate in and out of schools for in-person instruction; or opening schools to all students, with stringent safety protocols in place.
“We’re working hard to develop these three contingency plans,” Templeton said. “There won’t be a lot of vacationing (for district staff members) this summer. Every plan has to be definitively articulated and check-listed so that everybody knows how to put them in place. We’ve got some fine-tuning to do, but we’re continually asking Chris Rydal for clarification and listening to the state for guidance. We’re aware that things can change quickly. Our new mantra around here is that we’re ready for that which is unexpected and unanticipated. We’re thinking ahead to address all of the possibilities.”
During the meeting, board members approved the purchase and adoption of Edmentum, an alternative learning experience curriculum and virtual learning academy. The district plans to use the curriculum in its “Washougal Learning Academy,” a program that will be offered to high school students in the fall.
“We have a need for this program even outside of COVID-19 to provide some of the flexibility that comes with distance learning,” the district’s assistant superintendent, Renae Burson said. “For some of our students that are attending Cascadia Tech, it’s challenging to get all of the graduation requirements done. Similarly, we have students who have asked for a more flexible learning environment, and we haven’t been able to provide that, so they’ve gone to other virtual academies to meet their needs. This program is not just (a result of) COVID-19. This is something we’ve needed just to meet the needs of our students and provide more flexibility.”