Issaquah School District could lay off up to 51 teachers
May 3, 2011
By Laura Geggel
If the worst were to happen, Issaquah School District’s budget would take quite a hit for the next school year.
Although the Legislature has yet to finalize its biennial budget, the district is required, through its contract with the Issaquah Education Association teachers’ union, to alert teachers about impending layoffs by the last school board meeting in April.
At the board meeting April 28, Jacob Kuper, finance and operations chief for the district, presented a worst-case-scenario, predicting the district would lose $2.7 million — a cut that would lead to the layoffs of 51 teachers, two maintenance-and-operations personnel, six custodians, 1.3 bus drivers, 1.15 educational assistants and 1.3 teachers on special assignment.
Of the 51 teachers, 15 plan to leave through normal attrition, meaning 36 teachers will receive layoff notices. There are 1,078 teachers is the district.
“One of the challenges that you face in an educational system is that 85 percent of our costs are salaries,” Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said.
During the past two fiscal years, the district has received a $12 million reduction in state funding, money that was used to pay for classroom teachers and other school employees. The Legislature has reduced programs funding teachers, including suspension of Initiative 728, which pays for more teachers and professional development, and the elimination of the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade class-size reduction.
Fewer teachers, in turn, leads to larger class sizes. Since the 2009-10 school year, class sizes at the elementary level have increased by one student, and classes at the secondary level have risen by a half-student, on average.
Issaquah Education Association President Phyllis Runyon urged district officials not to take the layoffs lightly.
“We all know that the financial damage to school districts these past couple years has been a tragedy. Unfortunately tonight, financial tragedy could become a personal one for our members,” she said at the meeting. “We do remember that our members are so much more than a number on a seniority list. They are men and women who love their profession. They are part of a family. They have homes. They have mortgages. They have student loans. They pay taxes. They have needs. We need them in our schools.”
In a statement approved by union members, she urged the district to use its reserves and the dollars from its increased levy lid to keep as many teachers as possible.
A levy is a voter-approved property tax increase. In 2010, the Legislature approved a measure to allow districts to increase the levy lid — the amount they can levy — by 4 percent, bringing Issaquah’s levy lid to 28.97 percent.
That doesn’t mean the district is able to collect more than its voters approved; the district can either collect the amount voters approved, or the amount the levy lid allows, whichever is lower.
Meanwhile, the district’s reserves are shrinking. Last year, it had reserves of $14.5 million, but after the district had to use its reserves to fill cuts from the Legislature, Kuper predicted it would only have $12 million in reserves at the end of this year, a reduction of about 17 percent in a single year.
Using reserves to pay for ongoing contractual obligations, such as such as salaries and benefits, “is fiscally irresponsible because the reserve is a onetime, nonsustainable resource,” Kuper wrote in an email.
The district might need its reserves again for future, midyear reductions from the Legislature, Kuper said. This year, the Legislature unexpectedly cut $1.45 million in midyear reductions from the district, which relied again on its reserve to fill the gap.
For teachers, getting a RIF — reduction in force — notice is scary, Thiele said. He would know — he got one at the end of his second year of teaching about 20 years ago.
“I know how much it hurts, I know what it feels like,” he said. “I know how scary it can be. But one of the things that most concerns me, every time we go through this, is that those young teachers will walk away from their profession, and I really hope that that’s not the case, because I’m living proof that you can survive a RIF.”
Once the Legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire decide how to eliminate Washington’s $5.1 billion deficit, the district will restructure its budget, and possibly recall teachers for the 2011-12 school year.
In 2009, in a situation similar to the one now, the district laid off 158 teachers. After the Legislature and governor finalized the state budget, the district was able to recall most of those teachers.
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.