Washougal School District announces second round of budget cuts

$1M in cuts includes administrative, classified and teaching positions

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Washougal School District Assistant Superintendent Aaron Hansen (right) has agreed to a $25,000 salary concession as part of his agreement to take over as the district’s interim superintendent in July 2024. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record files)

The Washougal School District (WSD) have implemented a second round of reductions to address its looming $3 million budget shortfall.

When district leaders announced their initial reduction plan to reduce the deficit earlier this year, they stated that they may have to make additional cuts based on four factors — the outcome of Washington state’s recent legislative session; inflation impacts on current spending; student enrollment declines; and contract bargaining with labor groups.

Those factors did not break in WSD’s favor.

“In order to ensure that district leadership can create a budget that puts the district back on sound financial footing, we will need to make additional reductions,” the district stated this month.

The second round of cuts, which will save the district about $1 million in 2024-25, include:

Administrative cuts: interim superintendent salary concession ($25,000); eliminate district custodial manager ($60,000); eliminate ESD 112 communications manager ($25,000); eliminate business services director ($25,000); eliminate accounting manager ($106,000); furlough culinary supervisor and manager ($15,000); and reduce leadership vacation cashout ($40,000).

Classified staff cuts: eliminate two-and-a-half paraeducator positions ($124,000) and two culinary staff positions ($80,000).

Teacher reductions: eliminate two teaching positions ($256,000).

Other cuts include deferred maintenance ($225,000) and athletic coach salary concessions and reductions ($40,000).

“As with (the first budget cuts), administrative positions and pay will be the category with the largest percentage reduction,” the website states. “These administrative reductions align with the priorities identified by the community earlier in the budget process.”

District leaders presented a preliminary version of the WSD’s 2024-25 budget to Washougal School Board members on June 11. School board members are expected to vote on the budget at their Aug. 27 meeting.

“Those (reductions) were not easy,” WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton said during the Board’s June 11 meeting. “What I have to say, I don’t want to say, and you don’t want to hear, but I’m going to say it because it must be said. We must make sure that we make those reductions, however painful that they are, so that we can have a balanced budget and that we can move into the future fiscally sound. I am thrilled to let you know that we have been successful in that.”

The budget projects the district will receive approximately $52.4 million in revenues and spend around $50.6 million from its general fund during the 2024-25 school year. About 83% of the expenditures will pay for employee wages and benefits, including salaries and benefits for the district’s 161.3 instructional full-time equivalent (FTE) educators (down from 174.7 in 2023-24), with the remaining 17% funding educational materials, supplies and other costs.

“We’re intentionally not spending as much as the revenue that we’re getting to increase our ending fund balance and maintain the (proper amount) to set aside,” WSD Finance Director Kris Grindy said during the June 11 meeting.

The budget shortfall was caused by a variety of factors, according to the district, including “underfunding” by the state, inflation in costs, lower enrollment and a levy rollback. In February, district leaders proposed a reduction plan for the 2024-25 school year that includes:

• Administration reductions ($484,000): 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): 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): 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) include reducing employee assistance program, weather forecasting, community newsletters, travel and professional development; and deferring a turf replacement project.

“We made some really big sacrifices across the entire organization,” Templeton said.

District leaders advocated for increased funding and encouraged legislators to address “significant issues” with the state funding model for education during the legislative session, which concluded on March 7.

“We are thankful that the legislature provided a small amount of additional funding for materials, supplies, and operating costs ($21 per student),” the district stated.

The legislature also provided a “small increase” in the funding formula for teacher assistants and office support staff, and increased the funding cap for special education by 1%, which will “provide additional funding support for our students with disabilities, but still leaves a significant gap the district must cover,” the district stated.

“These increases are not enough to keep pace with the increase in costs the district is experiencing,” according to the district.

In addition, WSD has been notified of “additional, significant increases” in costs for the 2024-25 school year.

“These include a 31% increase in our insurance rates, which will cost approximately $100,000,” the district stated in its communication with WSD families. “Our utility, food and fuel costs will increase, and we are budgeting for approximately $500,000 in increased expenses due to inflation, including the insurance increase.”

The district has reached tentative agreements with the Washougal Public Schools Employees and Washougal Washougal Association of Educators (WAE) unions.

Contract details will be posted to the district’s website after being ratified by the WAE and approved by the Board, according to WSD Communications and Information Technology Director Les Brown.

“I am grateful for the shared sacrifices and flexibility that let us get to this outcome,” said Templeton, who will leave the district in July for her new role as superintendent of the Lake Stevens (Washington) School District. “Having the tentative contract ready lets us focus on having a great start to the next school year and the great things we have planned.”

WAE President James Bennett said the dearth of state government funding factored heavily into the union’s negotiations with the school district.

“It’s a tough time in education in the state of Washington as school districts across the state are feeling the lack of funding that is coming from the state,” Bennett said. “COVID monies have ended, and student enrollments haven’t rebounded like we expected. This has made for a tough environment for contract negotiations. We’ve all felt the effects of inflation, and it’s really tough to offset the additional costs when the state isn’t putting our students first. We would have liked to have agreed to more years on the contract, but there are just too many unknowns when it comes to the funding.”

The district projects an enrollment of 2,530 students in 2024-25, a decrease from the 2,623 students that attended Washougal school programs during the 2023-24 school year.

“We are experiencing declining enrollment in our district,” Grindy said during the Washougal School Board’s June 11 meeting. “I know that this is not a surprise to the board or our community. We’ve been talking about declining enrollment for some time. It’s crucial to recognize the direct link between enrollment numbers and school funding. While our projections provide a roadmap, they are not definitive, so we know that it’s essential to continue to monitor our enrollment.”

The district projects that its ending fund balance will be 6% — the Board’s minimum target — by the end of the 2024-25 school year, but will increase to 10% by the end of the 2027-28 school year.

“Six percent is great, but really, eight to 12 percent is better because cash flow throughout the school year gets pretty tight if you have only 6 percent,” Grindy said. “We don’t want to be in a position where we have to continue to wonder if we need to borrow money from ourselves or from the state.”

Thanks to voter-approved local levy fund, the school district’s 2024-25 budget also includes funding for extracurricular activities such art, drama and music programs; athletics; clubs; nursing services; the district’s “College in High School’ program; dual language offerings; transitional kindergarten; early learning and preschool programs; professional learning communities; culinary services; staff wellness; communications; and “market-rate” salaries for educators.

“Despite fiscal challenges, our district is committed to providing a rich, supportive learning environment where every student can thrive,” Grindy said. “Our investments in education, extracurricular and community partnership reflect our dedication to giving students the tools they need to be successful in school and beyond.”

Fore more information about the Washougal School District’s 2024-25 budget, visit washou