Vashon School District will seek pay cuts to balance budget

Superintendent Michael Soltman says he’ll ask the Vashon school district’s three unions to consider a 1 to 2 percent across-the-board pay cut in an effort to fill a budget hole that could cost eight teachers their jobs.

The administrative staff, a non-unionized group, would be expected to take a similar cut in pay, he said. Should the unions agree, he added, the district-wide pay cuts could bring in $80,000 to $160,000, enough money — and then some — to retain two of the teachers who received pink slips earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Soltman and school board members are launching an ambitious fundraising drive this week, with a goal of raising $500,000 by June 30. They hope to raise $200,000 from major donors, $100,000 from off-Island families and the rest of the money by way of smaller gifts from school families as well as the community at large.

“We’re going for $500,000 because that’s what we stand for,” Soltman said. “We stand for a college prep program. We stand for an arts program. We stand for a science program. We stand for a co-curricular program. ... In order to have all of that, we need to raise $500,000; our goal matches the values that we have.”

District officials had previously announced a plan to raise $200,000 in private donations but decided to increase the goal after they heard from other fundraisers “that we were shooting too low,” said Laura Wishik, a board member actively involved in the fundraising efforts.

“Now that the RIF (reduction in force) notices have gone out and people are starting to feel the impact, everyone wants to help as best they can. So we decided to go for it,” she said.

The developments mark the latest efforts in the district’s all-out push to fill a $750,000 shortfall, a sizable hole in its projected $14 million budget for the 2010-2011 academic year. The district is considering a wide range of reductions, engaging in what Wishik called “difficult discussions” to try to figure out the mix of potential cuts to fill the gap. Because fundraising efforts are by definition uncertain, the board, she said, has to assume cuts totaling $750,000.

“It’s a painful place to be in,” she said.

Currently, she said, the board is considering cutting a bus route, a savings of about $35,000; reducing the amount of money it spends to support sports teams and other co-curricular activities, saving $30,000 to $60,000; cutting janitorial support and other reductions.

A public meeting will be held on Monday, May 24, to meet with parents and other Islanders about efforts to reduce the co-curricular subsidy. Soltman said his goal is not to reduce these programs — a beloved and time-honored part of school life for many students and their parents — but to find sources other than the school district’s general fund to support them.

There’s a range of options, he said, from charging more at the gates to increasing the fees families pay.

“Our goal is not to reduce the program,” he said. “But any reasonable person will be able to see that it doesn’t make sense to reduce the instructional program by $500,000 and not look for some creative means to pay for the co-curricular program.”

Some teachers, meanwhile, expressed concern about Soltman’s decision to come to them to seek a pay cut. Vashon teachers are not paid as handsomely as some of their counterparts in King County, especially those on Bainbridge and Mercer islands, districts Vashon is sometimes compared to. The teachers, as part of a contract they recently negotiated, are expecting small increases when the new budget goes into effect in August.

“As a single person who supports herself, it would be difficult for me to take a cut in pay,” said Sharon Boyer, a third-grade teacher and a 27-year veteran of the Vashon school district. “I don’t have another income in my family. It would be really hard for those of us who are single. It would be hard on those of us who have kids at home.”

Boyer said she routinely works unpaid hours and dips into her own bank account for school supplies, often to the tune of $1,000 a year.

“Until we can get the Legislature to do their job, which is to fully fund education ..., every district in the state is going to lurch from financial crisis to financial crisis,” she added. “It just breaks my heart to see us going through this again.”

Stephen Floyd, a humanities teacher at the high school, was more circumspect.

“It’s something that I’m certainly willing to think about,” he said, adding that he was speaking only for himself and not for the union.

He said he’s also open to supporting the foundation Soltman is talking about creating, as are other faculty members he’s talked to. “Already, people are saying, ‘How can we help so that we can head off some of the worst possible cuts?’” Floyd said.

Soltman said he realizes that asking teachers to take pay cuts is tough. But the issue has been floated at community meetings and needs to be explored, he said.

“I think it’s very difficult for them to give up negotiated salaries. We’ll just see how it goes. But I think it’s a conversation we have to have,” he said.

Budget meetings

The school district will hold a meeting to discuss how budget cuts might affect co-curricular programs. It will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, May 24, at the Vashon High School library.

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