Wenatchee School District Continues Budget Work

The Wenatchee School Board held a workshop Wednesday night to interpret the results of a budget survey and decide on further actions with regards to a looming $5.2 million deficit.

Superintendent Brian Flones said the two biggest things the district wants to prioritize are certificated teachers and items that have a direct engagement with the students.

“We looked at the survey results and used it as a guide for conversation about where priorities lie.” explained Flones, “We looked at what people had as high priority, middle or low and gave the board a chance to have those conversations. They gave us feedback in each area about what they would like us to look at as priorities for budget reductions.”

The board first examined the survey results before turning the meeting to public comment. Most of those in attendance were educators, though some concerned parents were present as well. Most spoke to the need to keep various positions and programs within the district.

Next the district cabinet was seated before the school board as the administrators attempted to gain some direction from the board. Superintendent Flones, who would essentially play the role of moderator for the evening, explained to the board that roughly $3 million in savings had already been identified through absorbing unfilled positions throughout the district.

The school board was then shown what further reductions would have to look like to reduce the final $2.2 million would-be deficit. Flones and the cabinet talked the board through what paying off 50%, 75%, and 100% of the $2.2 million remainder would mean. It was the cabinet’s hope that the school board would then instruct them on which of the three budgetary routes they should proceed with. However, if there was one consistent complaint from the school board Wednesday, it was that the board did not have enough data to make a decision.

Although more than 1,000 participated in the budget survey, which was available in English or Spanish, many on the school board were concerned that certain groups were not adequately represented.

Wenatchee School Board member Karina Vega-Villa said, “The majority of the responses were from certificated staff; we didn’t have a lot of high school students. I’m not sure what’s the demographics of the parents that were able to respond. I don’t think we have enough data based on the survey to make these kind of decisions. I feel like we still have a little bit more information left to collect to be able to make these decisions that will affect poor students.”

Vega-Villa suggested that student and parent submissions from the survey be given a higher weight, or value, in terms of the survey’s results, “We are serving students. They and parents should have a higher weight in the decision than staff.”

Flones and the cabinet then discussed each of five budget categories with the hopes that the board might inform the cabinet of any items they would like to see left alone. The five categories were (in order of priority per the budget survey) Certificated Staff, Classified Staff, Programs, Administrators, and Additional Pay Stipends.

Some items that the board believed should be protected from cuts included:

  • The Highly Capable Program, also known as HiCap or HCP
  • The Advancement Via Individual Determination program, or AVID
  • Programs that show the district’s diversity, such as WHS Mariachi
  • Student Counseling
  • Paraprofessionals

Other programs and positions were to be prioritized, made clear by Wenatchee School Board President Sunny Hemphill’s repeated statement, “Preserve academics.” Certificated staff, programs, and some classified staff were included in this group.

“Direct services and contact with kids is a priority.” said Hemphill.

As the administrators and school board moved through the budget categories, at one point the school board was reminded that they will soon have to make tough decisions and tough cuts.

Said one administrator, “I’m starting to get nervous because I keep hearing ‘Don’t touch this, don’t touch that, don’t touch this.’ I’m afraid we’re going to get to our scenarios and (they will) say we can’t get to $5.2 million.”

Over the course of the meeting, the following were suggestions for budget reduction ideas:

  • Making athletics ‘pay to play’, and/or getting the booster club to pay for athletics
  • Finding private sponsorship for after school programs
  • Reducing the substitute teacher hours
  • Eliminating Wenatchee Learns
  • Eliminating additional staff for building Master Schedules
  • Reducing the custodial staff
  • Reducing Positive Behaviors Intervention and Support (PBIS) to only the middle school or elementary level
  • Reducing IT and maintenance staff

As the district’s cabinet and school board finished going through the budget categories the board was again asked which of the 50%/75%/100% options was best. The board was again concerned they did not have enough feedback, while the cabinet was concerned that time was running out.

“If we push this out much farther than the latter part of February, students are going to likely lose the opportunity to make choices in their schedules.” said one member of the district’s cabinet, “And if there are people, like some of our staff that have non-continuing contracts, the later we push this the later we’re pushing them out of prime hiring time.”

Ultimately, the board did not settle on one budgetary route Wednesday night. School administrators will next create multiple budget scenarios according to the board’s recent direction. The school board will then be presented those scenarios in next Monday’s meeting.

Hemphill said community turnout for the workshop helped the board in the decision making process.

“None of us want to cut anything, and yet our job is to be fiscally responsible. We have instructed staff to come back with scenarios and we have said protect academics to the greatest extent possible. So they will be coming back with scenarios that we will look at and and study and discuss and none of us are going to be happy with the outcome.”

Hemphill expects the board to require at least one more study session after next Monday’s meeting before any budget is voted on.

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