At the recommendation of Vashon Island School District Superintendent Slade McSheehy, the school board cut thousands of dollars in staff hours and pay as part of needed budget reductions for the 2019-20 school year.
The decision came during the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 24 after much discussion and rounds of meetings with the budget advisory board.
The biggest staffing cuts include $42,000 in district office support staff and a special education paraeducator staff ($27,000), according to the district. The second biggest set of reductions total $119,000 split between two other positions, a custodian and a maintenance worker. That is on top of the decision made earlier this year to cut the assistant principal of McMurray Middle School.
The other reductions are tens of thousands of dollars in other staff and programming. The reductions made this fall total $224,000 altogether.
McSheehy said the board is done making adjustments to the 2019-20 budget.
“I’m thankful to the budget advisory board for giving me the information because, for me, the best work I do is when I’m engaged with the stakeholders in getting feedback,” he told The Beachcomber. “I was able to curb my recommendations according to the feedback. That, to me, shows there’s a lot of trust and respect.”
McSheehy added, “I would just reiterate: We’re not making arbitrary decisions. We’re making decisions that are based on immediate impacts on kids.”
McSheehy said many of his constituents in the district don’t want to see these reductions, saying, “I only have so much money.” It would be great, he said, if the district could “fund everything,” including staffing.
“This board has made it a priority to fund staffing,” he said. “During the last five years, this board has traditionally approved budgets where we are reducing our Material, Supplies and Operation Costs (MSOC) rather than staffing.”
Last year, even, the district was able to cut an additional $100,000 in MSOC, Materials Supplies and Operating Costs, on top of $600,000 already cut the prior year so that staffing would not have to be reduced. This year, however, the budget picture looks different.
“The only thing left is staffing, so we took a deep look at it. Rheagan’s right; there are no other dials to turn; staffing is the only one left,” McSheehy said. “This board, if we had the money … we would fund staffing with it.”
He was referring to comments by school board member Rheagan Sparks shared at the Oct. 22 meeting prior to the approval of the reductions.
“Unfortunately, we only have a reduction dial to turn. We don’t get to turn on a cash flow dial,” she said. “I really think we’ve arrived at the point as much as we’ve tried to delay it where these cuts are necessary and if we delay them beyond this point it’s not going to be responsive to the community and to the sustainability of the overall district program.”
Another board member, Spring Hecht, echoed Sparks’ comments during the meeting.
“At this point, I think it’s all been said. It is very hard — none of it feels good at all, it’s really hard,” Hecht said. “But I do hope this is temporary in that we will be able to not be in the same position down the road.”
The budget reduction process was jump-started last summer, just before the board approved a proposed budget for the 2019-20 school year. After the state Legislature failed to come up with additional funding in the last session, McSheehy determined that factors including reduced enrollment and less special education funding warranted further reductions. He appointed a budget advisory board to give him feedback and shared their findings with the school board after the group completed its work. McSheehy then made his budget recommendations to the board before it gave final approval.
“From what I’ve learned, and the feedback from the budget advisory board, my goal is not to have a September to October process to manage adjustments,” McSheehy told The Beachcomber. “The Budget Advisory Board, they gave me the feedback, [and] they said we would prefer you to make adjustments in the spring … If there’s going to be reductions, they would rather it be in a person laid off rather than in a small reduction of hours across many members.”
As a result of that feedback, he said discussion of the 2020-21 budget will involve a different strategy than before, one that would include under-project revenues and over-project expenditures.