Washougal School District names interim leader; approves ‘painful’ cuts

Aaron Hansen named interim superintendent; District nixes 14 teaching positions

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Aaron Hansen (right) shakes hands with Washougal School Board member Ida Royer during an April 30, 2024 school board meeting, after the Board announced Hansen will act as interim superintendent, beginning July 2024, while the district seeks a permanent replacement to outgoing Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

The Washougal School Board has appointed Aaron Hansen as the Washougal School District’s interim superintendent.

Hansen, who has worked as the school district’s assistant superintendent of human resources and student services since 2019, will replace Washougal School District (WSD) Superintendent Mary Templeton.

Templeton announced last week that she has accepted a position as the superintendent of the Lake Stevens School District in northwest Washington, and will be leaving her Washougal position, which she has held since 2018, in June.

On Tuesday, April 30, the Washougal School Board approved a motion to name Hansen as the district’s superintendent for the 2024-25 school year.

Washougal School Board President Angela Hancock said the Board did not have time to conduct a search for a permanent superintendent ahead of the 2024-25 school year.

“Appointing an interim would provide the necessary stability and direction that we need right now to get into the next school year,” Hancock told The Post-Record in April. “It would also give us the capacity to have a process in the fall where we can gather community input about the qualities and attributes that we’re seeking in a superintendent.”

Hancock said the interim superintendent “should possess a superintendent credential, and the leadership abilities, experience in education administration, communication skills, the ability to build relationships and collaborate with various stakeholders.”

“We are looking for someone who has strategic thinking, problem-solving skills, adaptability to quickly understand and address the district’s needs, and a commitment to fostering a positive and inclusive learning environment for students and staff,” Hancock said. “Additionally, a deep understanding of educational policies, budget management, and organizational dynamics is crucial.”

Some question budget cut impacts

Hansen will inherit a district that has had to cut $3 million from its budget and downsize its staff ahead of the 2024-25 school year.

On April 23, the school board approved a resolution to implement the district’s modified educational plan, which will cut 14 educators, according to James Bennett, the president of the Washougal teachers’ union, the Washougal Association of Educators (WAE).

“This is the hardest thing (to do), especially to people that we know,” Hancock said before voting on the resolution. “They are people in the community, people that are neighbors, people that taught my kids. It makes me sick. If there was another way to do it, we would do something else.”

Hancock said school board members understand the hardships caused by the cuts.

“This is not fun at all,” she said. “I’m truly sorry that this is what it is.”

The district’s budget cuts include:

• Administration reductions ($484,000): eliminate assistant superintendent position; reduce the working hours of the district’s custodial manager by 50%; reduce the district’s contract with Educational Service District 112 for communications services by 60%; 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): 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 will suspend its community education preschool and dual-language program expansion plan; and reduce Washougal Learning Academy instructional support and highly capable administrative support.

“Today, we are in a financial challenge that we’ve never seen before. We’ll call it a crisis, because that’s what it is,” Templeton said during the April 23 meeting. “That is our recognized challenge. We must continue to move forward and make really hard decisions that impact people. When we talk about reductions, these are not numbers on a piece of paper. These are people. These are human beings. These are teammates. I recognize that as your superintendent. (But) this district must survive.

“We very thoughtfully went through a process that was very painful. We heard (the community’s) feedback. We heard it loud and clear — (that we) must reduce administration more than anything else, and we did.”

Several WSD staff members objected to Templeton’s claims about the district office employee reductions, however. Bennett said the modified educational plan includes “laying off 14 more teachers but no layoffs in administration.”

‘‘Earlier this year, the community was asked to provide guidance regarding the needed budget cuts. The community responded. We overwhelmingly stated the cuts should focus on retaining classified and certificated staff and reduce administration and admin support. In spite of the community feedback, classified and certificated have taken the brunt of the cuts,” Washougal Learning Academy teacher Rebecca Woodings said during the April 23 Board meeting.

“The people closest to the students are the ones who are being let go rather than administration,” Woodings said. “According to public data, Washougal School District administration salaries have risen more than classified pay or certificated salaries. Admin says they’re taking a cut in pay. A slight cut in pay is easier to digest when you had significant raises just before the decrease. The district has not actually cut a single administrative position despite the community input they sought.”

Les Brown, WSD’s director of communications and technology, said district administrators have agreed to salary concessions.

“This includes a pay freeze and pay cut agreed to by the superintendent, directors, and supervisors,” Brown said. “The district office clerical staff have also agreed to a pay freeze. The Principal Association of Washougal has agreed to take an increase below what was negotiated in their multi-year agreement. It is clear from looking at the reduction list shared with the community several months ago that the category with the largest percentage of cuts is administrative staff. In fact, it’s almost twice as much as the reduction for classified and certified.”

The teachers’ union and district are currently in contract negotiations.

“We have a good number of tentative agreements on various proposals so far,” Bennett said. “Many of our proposals have focused on student discipline issues, working conditions, and support staff. Of course, the big question centers around compensation, and we haven’t come to an agreement on that yet. With the district’s financial issues, it may be challenging to find common ground that recognizes both the district’s position and the hard work that teachers do.”

Woodings and Josie Barrett, a third-grade teacher at Cape Horn-Skye Elementary School, said thedistrict has hinted that it wants to renegotiate the implicit price deflator (IPD) clause included in the most recent teachers’ contract.

“We all know that everything is more expensive and the same amount of pay doesn’t go as far,” Bennett said. “The state provides for a cost-of-living increase through the IPD for district employees. Unfortunately, the state only provides this cost-of-living increase for the number of staff calculated through the ‘prototypical school model.’ Pretty much every school district out there employs more staff than the model. It’s just not enough to do the work.”