Washougal students walk out to protest budget cuts

District faces $3M shortfall ahead of 2024-25 school year

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Washougal High School students (right) hold up a sign while walking out of Fishback Stadium, April 10, 2024, at the conclusion of a student walkout to protest Washougal School District’s proposed budget cuts. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Washougal High School students staged a walkout last week to protest budget cuts to their school and across the Washougal School District (WSD).

WSD leaders are facing a $3 million shortfall ahead of the 2024-25 school year, and have proposed a range of budget cuts that will impact teachers, administrators and support staff.

More than 100 students packed onto the south bleachers of Fishback Stadium shortly after noon on Wednesday, April 10, to show support for the Washougal High staff members who will be impacted by the reductions.

“Students shared (with us that) this action is being taken as a peaceful demonstration of their First Amendment right to assemble and express support for teachers who were impacted by the reduction-in-force (proposals),” WSD officials stated.

After an introductory speech by event co-organizer Grace Perkins, more than a dozen students came forward to speak about the impact of the proposed cuts and how the affected staff members changed their lives for the better.

“I really think it’s a great way for students to exercise their right to protest and their right to speak about how they feel,” Washougal High School senior Claire Zakovics said during the Washougal School Board’s April 9 meeting. “We know that this may not change anything, but if we’re able to make people aware about what’s happening, (we’re satisfied).”

WSD, “like many other districts around the state, is facing budget challenges that include underfunding by the state, inflation in costs, lower enrollment, and a levy rollback,” according to the statement. In February, the district proposed a reduction plan for the 2024-25 school year that includes:

• Administration reductions ($484,000, 10.4%): eliminate assistant superintendent position; reduce custodial manager and communications manager positions; implement a pay freeze and cut for superintendent, directors, and supervisors; and reduce board travel, professional development, professional memberships, and superintendent vacation benefit, travel and training.

• Certified staff reductions ($1.6 million, 6.4%): eliminate 4.6 supervisory teacher-on-special assignment positions, 6.8 secondary certified staff positions, and 4.2 elementary certified staff positions.

• Classified staff reductions ($694,000, 5.3%): eliminate two secretary positions, one attendance coordinator, one transportation staff member, one custodial staff member, one security staff member, one culinary services staff member, and one technology staff member; suspend community education preschool program; reduce highly-capable program administrative support; and implement district office clerical pay freeze.

• Other reductions ($208,000, 2.8%): decline to renew contracts with AVID, PLC@work and EduClimber; reduce employee assistance program, weather forecasting, community newsletters, travel, and professional development; and defer turf replacement project.

The district also proposed to suspend its community education preschool, dual language program expansion plan; reduce Washougal Learning Academy instructional support and highly capable administrative support.

“We appreciate students stepping up and sharing their perspective on the budget shortfall,” WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “Our students are co-authors of the educational experience, and we want to hear from them when issues arise. We are also frustrated with the situation that we are in, and are encouraging students to collectively reach out to legislators and demand action to fully fund education.”

Many of the student speakers focused their remarks on a handful of staff members, including counselor Lexie Groves, social studies teacher Elise Piet, language arts teacher Colten Fox and security guard Tony Harris.

“They bring joy and a friendly face to the school environment. I believe that without them, a huge piece of our school would leave with them,” Washougal High student Dawson Sprinkle wrote in a statement read by Perkins. “Personally, I already feel that our school is lacking a huge chunk of its personality. We keep losing teachers and staff members that are loved due to (a) hostile environment or contracts not being renewed. Please don’t hurt the student body in this district or the heart of our schools more than you already have.”

Washougal High senior Morgan Greco told the crowd that she has felt “welcomed” and appreciated by the school’s staff members after transferring from Camas High School for the 2024-25 school year.

“A large part of (my decision to transfer) was because I didn’t have teachers that I felt actually wanted me to be there and actually wanted to be there themselves. They took their students for granted,” Greco said. “That’s why when I came to Washougal, I was very surprised that I was so welcomed by all of my teachers, and to have them actually want to look (at you in that way) is something that’s very rare, and part of the reason that Washougal is so special.”

“I just want to give my gratitude to these (affected) teachers, even though I’ve never had any of them,” she continued. “I understand what it feels like to not have a teacher who actually wants you in their classroom or actually cares about you or cares about your education, and just wants to check off the list of kids and get them on their way. It’s great to have these teachers that make us feel so welcome and are here for us.”

The scale of the budget shortfall means the WSD “needs to adjust staffing to match our projected lower enrollment,” according to the statement.

“We love these teachers so much, and it sucks to see them go,” said Perkins, a junior. “It really hurts my heart because I have had so many personal experiences with those teachers, and they mean so much (to me).”

The district printed fliers with information about the budget shortfall and contact information for state legislators Paul Harris, Kevin Waters, and Linda Wilson, and distributed them to the students at the walkout.

“Your voices matter, and it’s through collective action that we can affect change (and impact) the quality of education our community deserves,” Perkins told the students. “Together, let’s advocate for a more equitable and sustainable approach to staffing decisions.”

Perkins added that the cuts will have “a detrimental impact” on Washougal High students’ educations.

“We rely on the number of teachers that we currently have, and we still don’t have enough. If parents are already discontented with the quality of education we have right now and are pulling their kids out, we lose more teachers, (then) we will lose more students. It’s a short-sighted approach that fails to consider the long term consequences.”

She also called out the district for letting go several of its younger teachers, who “understand us, are closer to our generation, not only in teaching styles but in ways of thinking, and really willing to work with all of us.”

“We also understand that students are frustrated about the impact on younger teachers who are working hard to connect with students and create dynamic learning opportunities that challenge students to develop relevant skills to serve them after high school,” the district’s statement said. “When we implement a reduction-in-force, we follow the negotiation agreement between the district and our labor partners.This means that reductions are based on needed positions and individual teacher seniority, not an individual basis.”

As the students walked back to school after the hour-long event, Perkins told the Post-Record that she hopes to “grow this effort and get as many students involved as possible to continue this movement if we need to.”

“(The message is) ‘Save our staff. If these teachers go, we say no,’” Perkins said, referring to the words on a sign held by a student standing next to her. “These people are vital to our education, our futures, (our ability to grow as) humans, and having them laid off is only going to further deteriorate the quality of our learning. It’s more than just a small town losing some teachers. For us, it’s our lives.”

The Washougal School Board will hold a public hearing before taking action on the 2024-25 budget. The public hearing is set for Tuesday, Aug. 27, during the Board’s regular meeting. For more information about the school district’s 2024-25 budget process, visit