At a school board meeting held on Thursday, June 9, the agenda included a vote on the district’s 2021 budget and a number of other discussions, including an update on the district’s recent response to an outbreak of COVID at Vashon Island High School (VHS).
At the meeting, Vashon Island School District (VISD) Superintendent Slade McSheehy discussed the district’s current COVID case counts, which he said had declined precipitously in the past week, following Seattle King County Public Health’s (PHSKC) declaration of an outbreak at VHS.
For May, the district’s COVID dashboard shows a total of 153 student cases in all three Vashon schools — a number representing more than one-third of this school year’s total of 450 cases in students.
For staff members, the curve was even steeper, with 32 cases logged for the month of May, representing half of the district’s total 65 cases in staff members in the school year.
In the single week of May 23 to 29, the district recorded 59 cases in students and staff at VHS.
In response, the district, following a recommendation made by PHSKC, required that masks be worn at VHS as of June 6, and also recommended, though not required, that masks be worn at Chautauqua Elementary School and McMurray Middle School.
At the board meeting, held at Chautauqua Elementary School on June 9, McSheehy did not wear a mask, as has been his practice at board meetings since the lifting of a broader mask mandate in March — though all other board and staff members who were visible on a YouTube recording of the meeting were masked.
In an email exchange with McSheehy, The Beachcomber, noting the meeting’s location, asked McSheehy for a response as to why he had chosen not to follow his own district’s recommendation for masking in the building.
In his reply, McSheehy indicated that such an inquiry was out of bounds in terms of district policy.
“Decisions to mask or not mask are private individual health decisions,” he wrote. “…VISD respects everyone’s individual decisions and understands that each individual makes these decisions according to their own private health needs. When masks are recommended and not required, we do not ask staff, students, or anyone from the school community why they mask or don’t mask, nor do we single any individual out for their decision.”
At the board meeting, McSheehy said that further discussion with PHSKC was scheduled for the next week, to reevaluate the district’s current mask recommendations and requirements in light of rapidly dropping case counts.
The meeting marked the board’s unanimous approval of the $27 million budget, with no further discussion by the board, except for a request by board member Kali Aguilera to hold a board workshop later this summer, to further discuss components of the budget in light of enrollment and other issues.
Islanders can view the budget summary at tinyurl.com/yckn8dzs.
The $27 million budget is approximately 4% higher than last year’s $26 million budget and reflects recommendations for a $917,000 reduction in force (RIF) measure. Announced in May, that measure includes programming and position cuts to custodial, food service, office, teaching, paraeducator and specialist staff that were made to help cure a $1.3 million deficit in the budget.
Despite these cuts, salary costs for certificated staff in the new budget are still up by 6.8% from last year, due to newly bargained salaries for both union and non-union represented staffers in this category — groups that include both teachers and administrators. Salary costs for classified staff have risen 9.4% in the new budget, also due to bargained salaries and pay increases recommended by the superintendent and approved by the board in 2021 and 2022. Employee benefits across the board have accordingly risen 6.3%.
In terms of revenue for district programs, $6.6 million comes from local property taxes. Revenue from the state is slated to bring $18 million to the district, and revenue from federal and other sources accounts for $2.4 million.
The budget also incorporates an anticipated $12.6 million expenditure in 2022-2023 for capital improvements. Currently, the administration and board are considering bond measures including choices between a $16 million bond, a $19.5 million bond, and a $27.5 million bond.
Later in the meeting, the board further discussed planning for the bond measure, which, if approved, would come before voters in February 2023.
Notably, student fees are set to rise in the new budget, including increased tuition for preschool programs, costs to participate in art and some other elective classes, and increased fees for other longtime enrichment programs such as McMurray Middle School’s Exploratory Week and Chautauqua’s Outdoor Education Program.
The increased fees for these programs came as Vashon Schools Foundation announced a $35,000 emergency fund drive to fully pay the costs of both Exploratory Week and Outdoor Education, for the first time ever.
For 2022-2023, the foundation has already committed to fully funding other enrichment programs which have previously been hailed by the district as beneficial to students’ mental health. These include Sisterhood, Journeymen, Vashon Artists in Schools, Sources of Strength, Vashon Wilderness Program, and Vashon Nature Center, and a counseling program conducted in partnership with Vashon Youth & Family Services.
Previously, VISD contributed almost one-third of the cost for these programs; the 2022-2023 budget does not.
VISD staff retirees
Three staff members throughout the school district have retired this year, which was announced at the June 9 board meeting.
The retirees include FamilyLink teacher Jim Gilmour, McMurray Middle School sixth grade science teacher Gay Roselle and Vashon Island High School Special Education paraeducator Kirk Barker.
Both Gilmour and Roselle were present at the meeting, with Roselle recounting her arrival to Vashon Island as a science specialist, and commented on how both she and Gilmour had worked together at McMurray at one time.
Staff members at FamilyLink had compiled a small book praising Gilmour’s work, from which McSheehy read several passages.
Gilmour spoke about his time at VISD as well, as he had spent time working in both the FamilyLink program and as a math and science teacher at McMurray.
“It’s been a pleasure to be in this district,” said Gilmour.