District finds funds to retain teachers

Andy James enjoys cards and gifts from his fourth-grade students on the last day of school. - Elizabeth Shepherd
Andy James enjoys cards and gifts from his fourth-grade students on the last day of school.
— image credit: Elizabeth Shepherd

Several public school teachers whose jobs were on the line have been retained in the wake of a community-wide fundraising drive and a number of budget-cutting efforts by the Vashon Island School District.

In April, when school district officials realized statewide budget cuts had punched a $1 million hole in their spending plan, they decided to reduce the teaching ranks by 10 positions, most through layoffs and a few by attrition.

Now, the district will likely lose only three positions, retaining seven that had been in jeopardy, school superintendent Terry Lindquist said last week.

“I’m pretty pleased,” he said. “At least these people have employment for one more year.”

The district was able to restore the teaching positions by undertaking belt-tightening efforts, securing stimulus dollars from the Obama administration and launching the Save Our Teachers Initiative, a community fundraising effort.

The fundraising effort wrapped up last week with $58,000 in contributions, including an 11th-hour contribution from Becky and Matt Bergman of $10,000. That last gift will likely mean Vashon High School will be able to retain a much-needed half-time counselor, said Laura Wishik, the school board member who initiated the campaign.

All told, she said, 253 individuals contributed, giving on average $194 (not counting the Bergmans’ gift). She said she was thrilled by the results. “It shows that people are generous even in tough times and that people really care about our schools,” Wishik said.

Andy James, a Chautauqua Elementary School teacher slated to lose his job, also said he was pleased by the community outpouring. James, who taught fourth grade this year, will return in the fall as the elementary school’s nearly full-time music teacher.

But he also said it’s hard to see some of the others in the district, including the teacher whose job he’s taking, find themselves without employment.

“Some parts of the outcome are sad,” he said. “But I’m grateful to see the district and the community have a concern for retaining teachers.”

The school board is scheduled to approve a balanced budget at its July 30 meeting. Last week at the school board meeting, Lindquist announced to applause that he thinks a balanced budget is in hand.

Meanwhile, the district’s bus route plan — truncated to save money — has been modified again, this time reinstating some of the routes cut in the proposal’s first iteration.

A bus will now go nearly all the way to Point Robinson, along the Dilworth Loop, down the road towards Spring Beach and through a few other neighborhoods. By consolidating stops, the district will still save about $100,000 with this plan, officials said at the board meeting.

“This gets close,” said board chair Bob Hennessey. “This is probably as good as we’re going to get.”

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