MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon School Board on Wednesday approved cutting $3.9 million from the school district’s budget for the 2019-2020 school year.
The cuts of teaching staff come despite outcry from educators and parents and weeks of work on behalf of the district to minimize the impact.
“Here’s the reality: 85% of our total operating budget is in people,” Superintendent Carl Bruner said.
Bruner said seven positions will be cut through attrition and the rest through layoffs.
It is the largest reduction in teaching staff Bruner said he had been part of in his 36 years in public education.
The loss of the 14.8 positions is a drastic change from the first time the district presented its list of potential cuts to the board on April 17. At that meeting, 29 teachers were facing potential layoffs, and six positions were expected to be lost through attrition, Bruner said.
“Is (the new proposal) better than 35? Yes,” he said. “Do we hope like heck that much of this is reduced? Absolutely.”
The district — like most others in Skagit County — is in the position of having to make cuts because of how it has been impacted by the “McCleary Fix,” the state Legislature’s plan to fully fund basic education after a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling ordered it to do so.
As part of the fix, the Legislature increased last year the statewide property tax, allowing it to pour more money into school districts.
At the same time, the Legislature limited how much districts can collect in local taxes — money that has been used for everything from supplies to teacher salaries.
That reduction in levy dollars is leaving many districts struggling.
The state Legislature ended its budget session Sunday with more changes in education funding that may provide relief to some school districts, including Mount Vernon, Bruner said.
However, the impact of those decisions are not known and likely won’t be by the May 15 deadline for districts to inform teachers they may be laid off.
“We don’t know exactly where we stand yet,” board president Larry Otos said.
Bruner stressed the cuts approved Wednesday are not set in stone.
He said if the changes made by the Legislature have a positive effect on the district some of the cuts — including layoffs — could be pulled back.
“Keep in mind that it is one thing only: a contingency plan,” he said. “If we learn from (the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) that we’re going to get $6, $8, $10 million, this becomes irrelevant.”
At its April 24 meeting, the district outlined potential cuts that would keep it from having to cut as many teaching positions as it once thought it would. Those cuts included about $5,000 from the athletics department.
As of Wednesday’s meeting, that number had increased to $75,000, which includes the departure of the athletics department secretary and the elimination of seventh-grade sports other than wrestling and track and field.
“Depending on who you are, you either think that is way too little or you think that is way too much,” Bruner said.
The elimination of the district’s bookmobile — effective 2020 — will save the district $23,000 and the closure of its Cleveland and Arbor Park family support centers will save the district $43,000, Bruner said.
The district’s “Blue House,” also known as the Kulshan Support Center, was re-opened in 2014. The other two centers followed in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
In addition, the district’s fifth grade after-school Science, Technology, Engineering and Math camp will be eliminated, saving $15,000, Bruner said.
The board unanimously approved the cuts.
“None of us are in a position that we want to be in,” board member Jessica Samora said. “But it is a real position that we have to face.”