Facing deficit, school district now poised to cut staff

The district faces a projected $1.3 million deficit in the budget for the 2024-25 school year.

Facing a projected $1.3 million deficit in Vashon Island School District’s projected budget for the 2024-25 school year, Vashon’s school board has passed a general resolution authorizing Superintendent Slade McSheehy to cut staff and programming.

The motion to authorize a reduction in force (RIF) approved at the district’s March 28 board meeting, was not unanimous, with Kaycie Alanis voting no, without commenting as to her reason at the meeting.

After a first read of the resolution at the board’s February meeting, Alanis had raised questions as to its wording, suggesting it would authorize McSheehy to implement specific RIF recommendations without further board approval.

River Branch abstained from the vote on March 28, having only been sworn into her appointed seat earlier in the meeting. Branch replaced Allison Krutsinger, who resigned in mid-February.

Board chair Lucia Armenta, vice-chair Juniper Rogneby and Martha Woodard — all newly elected to the board in November — voted yes.

Woodard and Rogneby both said they cast their votes with heavy hearts, citing their responsibility to balance the district’s budget for the coming school year.

“We care deeply for staff and students,” Woodard, a former longtime teacher in the district, said, adding that the measure did not guarantee a reduction in force, and that the board would indeed need to additionally vote to authorize specific job cuts identified by McSheehy.

“We hope this resolution is not required and will not result in anything, except that we passed it,” she said.

At the meeting, numerous documents supporting the need for the resolution were presented by McSheehy, who has frequently cited a state-wide crisis in funding for public education.

The documents included a breakdown of a $1.3 million deficit currently projected for the 2024-25 school year, with total revenues from the state and other sources at $26.7 million, and total expenditures of $28 million.

During the last week of March, the district held meetings with both staff and the community to discuss the possible reduction in force, and also sent out a fact sheet to district families, explaining the reasons why staff and program cuts, as well as larger class sizes, may be necessary.

These reasons include shrinking enrollment in the district — mirroring similar drops in enrollment statewide — with an anticipated 2024-25 enrollment of 1,400 students.

The district’s current budget projected a higher enrollment, at 1438, but has averaged only 1408 students during the 2023-24 school year.

According to the fact sheet, the number of students attending school in the district has dropped more dramatically since 2019, when approximately 1,460 were enrolled — spelling a significant drop in per-student state funding.

The fact sheet also faulted the state’s model for funding district personnel, saying that the state has never funded what the district provides for every student, and that the district must rely on its local levy to pay staffing costs for additional teachers, para-educators, custodians, and specialized services including nursing, counseling, and special education.

Cost of living adjustments for staff salaries provided by the state do not adequately cover all positions, making it necessary to further tap into levy funds to pay these costs, the fact sheet said.

Additionally, the gap in state funding for special education funding in the district increased to approximately $800,000 in 2023 and is expected to continue growing, according to the fact sheet.

The district also cited increased costs due to inflation, with rising expenses for utilities, gas, insurance and other essentials outpacing funding from the state.

Over the next month, McSheehy and school administrators are charged with refining and identifying specific staff cuts as well as program and service reductions in the district, to be presented to the board for its consideration at its April 25 meeting.

Superintendent salary

The school board, according to board member Alanis, is also now in the process of contract negotiations with McSheehy, with that process anticipated to be completed by the end of April.

McSheehy, hired by the district in 2018, has a three-year contract which is annually renewed for one year by the board.

At the March 28 meeting, the board took a first read of an addendum to McSheehy’s contract, specifying that his salary would increase from $198,158 to $207,471 — an approximate 4.7 percent cost of living increase.

Additionally, the addendum provides McSheehy with an additional amount of six percent of that salary, amounting to approximately $12,500, to be contributed to an investment/retirement account as directed by McSheehy.

The amount of McSheehy’s raise was already set in an addendum to McSheehy’s contract that was approved last year by the previous school board.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be finishing my sixth year here,” McSheehy said, regarding his employment in the district. He thanked the district’s board, staff, students and families for their support during his tenure, which he said had included the COVID pandemic, a lengthy strategic planning process, two investigations of staff misconduct toward students, challenges regarding finances, and major transitions in the district’s staff and board.

“Through it all, the pride and joy has been watching our students develop and thrive,” he said.