The cold, hard reality of last week’s capital facilities bond failure in the East Valley School District is hitting home.
A middle school is set to close for the 2011-12 school year, and students and staff moved from an elementary school. And 25 teachers could find themselves out of work in a package of budget cuts that are intended to slice hundreds of thousands of dollars from the EVSD budget.
The action was the result of last Friday’s declaration by the school board of a “fiscal emergency” due to state funding cuts. In a short afternoon meeting, the board made the somber announcement.
“Well, my friends, with an empty place in my heart, I’d ask for a motion,” said board Chairman Mitch Jensen before the unanimous vote.
“Boy, I don’t want to be doing this,” agreed fellow board member Mike Harris.
East Valley school officials are reeling after its $33.75 bond request was slammed with a 61-percent rejection (a 60-percent supermajority approval was needed) on April 26 by voters in the district. While the election won’t be certified until May 11, the response by the school district has been swift.
On Monday, students in the East Valley district took home a letter outlining the planned cuts, which make up 6.3 percent of the total budget.
Under the restructuring plan, the district plans to:
- Close Mountain View Middle School and send seventh- and eighth-grade students to East Valley Middle School. Superintendent John Glenewinkel has said the school is underutilized (it can hold 700 but currently houses 330 students) and could save the district $1.5 million annually.
- Staff at Skyview Elementary will be sent to Otis Orchards Elementary School. Students from Skyview would have the option to enroll at Otis Orchards or Trentwood elementaries, or they could go to the district’s Continuous Curriculum School.
- Students who are now in the fifth grade at Trent, Trentwood, Otis Orchards and East Farms elementary schools would remain where they are for the sixth grade rather than move on to middle school.
- Twenty-five teachers – under a union-approved collective-bargaining agreement -- have already been notified they will be laid off.
In addition, there will be other cuts to administrative and classified staff, plus school district boundaries will be restructured.
On Friday, the board members also learned from Brian Wallace, the executive director of district operations, that – until a final budget is approved in the Legislature – there could be another $1.76 million in cuts coming from the state.
Given that reality, the school board was convinced there was no other option but to go ahead and make the decision to move ahead with the restructuring plan. That prompted this week’s announcement by Glenewinkel that district patrons should prepare for big changes in the near future.
“We recognized that this accelerated timeline is a departure from statements that were made when we were planning this transition,” Glenewinkel wrote. “We planned for the transition; we had not anticipated this level of cuts from the state.”
The bond failure exacerbated the situation, the superintendent said, which has resulted in jump-starting the controversial restructuring plan.
Next week, the school board has three community meetings planned to discuss the budget cuts. Parents were warned in the letter, however, that talk won’t revolve around whether or not the cuts will be made but instead on how to do it in a way that impacts students the least.
“These meetings will not be forums to discuss the actions already identified that must happen,” Glenewinkel wrote. “(Instead), they will be meetings to talk about how to make the changes in a way that is least disruptive to students.”
Jensen said that the district needed to have a “secondary plan” in case of the bond’s failure.
“We didn’t anticipate this large of a hit from the state,” he said
Nor, apparently, did other area school district. Spokane Public Schools administration released a similar notice on Monday that it planned to lay off an unprecedented 238 employees in preparation for a “worst case scenario.”
Still, Jensen retained some optimism – even if just a small amount – that things could turn around. On Tuesday, Gov. Christine Gregoire said that $321 million recently collected under a tax-amnesty program for businesses could possibly be used to offset state education reductions in the budget.
“Two years ago, we had to do this (declare a financial emergency) and we ended up rescinding it,” he said. “But these unprecedented cuts are killing us. They’re just killing us.”
Want to know more?
Over the next week, the East Valley School District board of directors will hold a series of community meetings to discuss the restructuring plan. Meetings will be held:
- Monday, May 9, 6 to 8 p.m., Mountain View Middle School, 6011 N. Chase Road.
- Wednesday, May 11, 1 to 2:30 p.m., East Valley Administration Center board room, 12325 E. Grace.
- Wednesday, May 11, 6 to 8 p.m., Trent Elementary School, 3303 N. Pines Road.
For more information, call 924-1830.