WENATCHEE — Wenatchee school athletics got a reprieve Tuesday, as did half-time middle school counselors and the Wenatchee High School librarian.
The elementary school assistant principals took a hit, for now, but instructional coaches might have gained ground and the six-period secondary schedules will remain, meaning no teacher layoffs.
The Wenatchee School Board voted to adopt the budget cut proposal presented as “Scenario 2” with modifications, the biggest of which was not to move forward with the proposed $200,000 cut to the district’s athletics budget.
The scenario uses existing staff transfers to fill posts open due to retirements, resignations and non-renewed one-year contract assignments. It also fills vacant counselor and librarian posts that originally had been absorbed.
Current estimates show that plan would narrow the anticipated $5.2 million budget deficit for next year by $4.5 million. The difference will come from the district’s reserve account, leaving about $6.4 million, within the district target of 5.5 percent.
The move followed hours of testimony from most of the 33 people who signed up to defend jobs, programs and schedules. A large contingent of students and parents spoke to the value of keeping middle school sports and “C” teams. They also supported keeping the assistant athletic director position.
Teachers attested to the success of the middle school’s six-period schedule, the value of the instructional coach program for teachers and the morale hit of laying off teachers.
Some also acknowledged the tough decisions the board faces.
Not all the news was bad. District Finance Director Larry Mayfield said the Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center budget is back on track thanks to recent enrollment recruiting efforts to bolster the summer school program among other things. That eliminates an anticipated $308,000 cost.
He cautioned the board that many of the budget numbers are still fluid, which could work to the district’s advantage — or not.
“These are estimates based on estimates,” he said.
One of the biggest unknowns, he said, is the financial impact of the new State Employment Benefits Board, a state-run health insurance program. The payments required by individual school districts starting in 2020 are not yet known, but could be as high as $600,000.
More details will come from work now being done in Olympia.
Other anticipated budget blows include the trending enrollment decline and further loss of state regionalization funds.
Superintendent Brian Flones encouraged the board to provide direction now rather than wait for more data.
“There will be more follows at other meetings, but we need to get the process started,” he said. “As things become clearer, some of the numbers might change a little bit,” which might lead to additional ideas for savings or how to fill some of the gaps.
Previous testimony supporting elementary school assistant principals had prompted the board to consider a scenario retaining those posts. The $450,000 price tag didn’t fly, though, as board members feared that put the reserve balance too low. If the budget outlook improves, those positions could be returned, Flones said.
Flones spoke in favor of the modified Scenario 2.
“It’s the best we can come up with now if we don’t take more out of reserves,” he said. “It’s prudent. It puts the district in a good position to begin conversations that need to happen as we are preparing the budget and we get more information back from the Legislature.”
Board member Sarah Knox thanked the staff for providing some hope.
“I want to be optimistic. I think we need to move forward. If we find we have to cut more, we do it. I don’t think we should look for more cuts than we have to.”