Mount Vernon school district

Teachers and community members, many wearing red for the Washington Education Association, attended Wednesday's school board meeting at Mount Vernon High School.

MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon School Board on Wednesday delayed making a decision regarding about $3.7 million in budget cuts for the 2019-20 school year.

The district on April 17 outlined for the board its potential cuts, which included about 29 teaching positions, a decision that had many teachers concerned.

Hearing those concerns, school board President Larry Otos said the district went back to the drawing board in an effort to find cuts that would minimize the impact on staff.

“We listened to what folks had to say at the last public session about moving a little bit too fast,” Otos said. “We took that to heart and we pumped the brakes a little bit.”

Instead, the board will wait another week in the hopes of having more clarity on its budget after the Legislative session ends, he said.

Notices to staff about layoffs — called reduction in force notices — have to be made by May 15. That doesn’t mean the district will be forced to cut those positions, but it can if it needs to based on what happens in the state Legislature.

If the Legislature goes into an extended session, the deadline for reduction in force notices moves to June 15.

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 Legislature’s response to McCleary did us no favors,” Superintendent Carl Bruner said.

Based on certain risk factors set by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mount Vernon is one of 22 school districts that has been hit extra hard by the funding changes.

In August, in the midst of teacher contract negotiations, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sent out the list of four “warning indicators” that districts needed to be cautious about when moving forward with negotiations.

Those indicators included whether the teachers were already paid near or above the state average and whether the districts were going to lose more than 50 percent in local levy dollars beginning in 2019.

After last week’s outcry, Bruner said the district has gone back to the drawing board to look at nonpersonnel related cuts, including bumping the decrease in building and department budgets up to 10% and reducing music allocations by $13,400 and P.E. allocations by $2,200.

It will also reduce some of its contracting costs, such as a marketing campaign, and positions including an occupational therapist — a savings of about $81,000 — and a psychologist, a savings of about $106,000.

The district will also eliminate about two administrative positions, he said.

“Our interest as a district is to be as strategic and as targeted as possible and minimize the impact on people that do not need to be impacted,” Bruner said.

The high school’s planetarium — one of two high school planetariums in the state — will also face potential cuts, Bruner said.

The cost of maintaining the planetarium is about $10,000 a year, he said. That budget will be cut in half.

“This is an example to the lengths that we are going,” Bruner said. “Five thousand bucks is a drop in the bucket. It really is insignificant … yet we are attempting to turn over every rock.”

The athletics department will also face a $5,000 cut, Bruner said.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We know we need to continue to look at athletics. We also know that despite the fact that athletics is a bull’s-eye to a lot of critics, there are a lot of kids that come to school because they’re engaged in athletics.”

More work will be done in the next week before the district presents to the board again, Bruner said.

The Mount Vernon School District is not the only district in the county facing staff cuts. The Conway School Board on Monday approved a reduced educational program that eliminated teaching positions.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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