Following a 2023-24 budget process that included more than $5 million in cuts, Camas School District leaders say they have been able to find positions for 27 of the 37 certified teachers included in the district’s planned reduction in force (RIF).
“We are coming out of the RIF process,” Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone told the Camas School Board during the Board’s July 23 meeting. “I will tell you this was a very respectful and collaborative process.”
Of the “35 to 37” certified teachers included in the district’s RIF notifications in June, Anzalone said the district has been able to find “positions most aligned to their qualifications” for 27 teachers.
“We tried to really work with each individual principal and individual teacher as well as with (human resources employees) to find homes for people that … aligned with their skill sets as much as possible,” Anzalone said. “We hope to never have to go through that again.”
The district still has 10 certificated staff members who are impacted by the district’s budget cuts and RIF process going into the 2023-24 school year.
Faced with a reduction in revenues — due mostly to declining enrollment rates, decreased state funding that helped school districts in higher cost-of-living areas attract and retain employees, and the end of one-time COVID-relief funds that have kept many Washington state school district afloat since 2020 — Camas School Board members agreed in 2022 to use more than $8 million from the district’s general-fund reserves along with cost containment strategies and budget cuts to help offset revenue shortfalls and balance the budget within four years.
“We are approaching this new age for the Camas School District,” the school district’s finance director, Jasen McEathron, told Camas School Board members in April 2022. ”Enrollment is the single biggest thing that drives our funding … We were experiencing 2.5 percent growth before the (COVID–19) pandemic. Now we’re forecasting pretty modest growth over the course of the next four years, from 0.65 to 0.8 percent per year, so it’s definitely different.”
A 2022 enrollment forecast showed the school district’s student enrollment is expected to grow again, but much slower than in the pre-pandemic years. McEathron said that, although the pandemic caused some Camas families to withdraw their students from public schools, the forecasted enrollment slowdown is also due to pre-pandemic problems, including a high cost-of-living that shuts out many families with young children.
“Birth rates are down and the cost of housing in Camas is very expensive,” McEathron said in 2022. “So we cannot expect to see 2.5 percent growth. We were already on a pathway for enrollment to slow down, and that was going to change our revenue curve.”
Superintendent calls new enrollment data ‘rather promising’
During the school board’s July 23 meeting, Anzalone provided board members with the most recent enrollment figures and said he was feeling “cautiously optimistic” about the numbers, which showed at least 385 new students will attend Camas schools in 2023-24, climbing from an enrollment of 6,872 students in July 2022 to 6,942 students in July 2023.
“It’s better to see those numbers up instead of down,” Anzalone said. “Overall, it’s rather promising.”
The enrollment headcount as of July 23, showed enrollment increases at several schools, including Hayes Freedom High School, which will have a freshman class three times larger than the 2022-23 class, Anzalone said.
“Hayes Freedom is a great bright spot here,” he added. “We’re up over 20 students at Hayes Freedom (going into the 2023-24 school year.)” The online Camas Connect Academy, which is merging with the district’s project based learning (PBL) Odyssey Middle and Discovery High schools this year, also increased its enrollment figures, and expects to add at least 17 new students in 2023-24.
“That is a bright spot for us as well,” Anzalone said of the Camas Connect Academy, adding that the enrollment gains were “mostly in our older students, which is typical in online programs.”
Other enrollment figures show a distribution of the 385 new students throughout Camas schools, including: 203 entering kindergarten; 73 entering first through fifth grades; 46 entering sixth through eighth grades; and 63 entering high school grades.
McEathron also provided a budget update to the school board during the July 23 meeting, and said that, while Camas has received some unexpected revenues recently — including $140,000 more in state “safety net” funding for special education ($1.34 million versus the $1.2 million the district expected to receive) and approximately $80,000 from investment earnings — the budget reductions the district made ahead of the 2023-24 school year still proved necessary.
“It still doesn’t balance the budget, but it is definitely a bright spot on the revenue side,” McEathron said. “Overall, it doesn’t change the picture for the district. We still needed to make the adjustments we made this spring, and still need to be conservative going into future years.”
Teacher contract negotiations happening this week
A negotiation team for the Camas Education Association (CEA), the union representing around 460 Camas educators, counselors, specialists and teacher-librarians, met Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 15-16, with the Camas School District’s bargaining team.
“We know we have a tough week with CEA negotiations the next two days, probably going into the night,” Anzalone told the Camas School Board on Monday, Aug. 14, regarding contract negotiations with the Camas teachers’ union. “We’re getting closer and closer every day.”
Anzalone said the district plans to host a “welcome back” day for educators at Camas High School on Monday, Aug. 21.
“If we’re still in negotiations, that could change the tone,” of the welcome-back event, Anzalone told school board members Monday. “No matter how things land, we’re excited and ready to start school.”
CEA union representatives have asked members to wear red in support of the union on Monday, Aug. 21, and could vote on union action during the CEA’s Aug. 22 meeting.
The first day of the 2023-24 school year in Camas is Monday, Aug. 28.
Anzalone said he is hopeful the district and teachers’ union will reach an agreement before then.
“We want to make it known we’re in this together,” Anzalone said this week, one day before district leaders were set to meet with CEA negotiators. “Hopefully we’re all signed, sealed and delivered by then, so we’ll see how the next couple days go.”