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SK school district announces teacher layoffs

South Kitsap School District officials announced that as many as 23 teachers could receive notice that their contracts will not be renewed for the next school year at Wednesday night’s board meeting at Manchester Elementary School.

That does not necessarily mean that many teachers will be laid off, though.

SKSD needs to cut 15 full-time equivalent positions and superintendent Dave LaRose outlined a plan that would reduce four elementary-school positions, 6.8 at junior highs and 4.2 at South Kitsap High School.

The board unanimously approved the plan.

SKSD actually is cutting 25 full-time equivalent teachers as it attempts to reduce a deficit that assistant superintendent for business and support Terri Patton estimates at $6.5 million. But LaRose estimates that 10 of those positions will be eliminated through attrition.

Assistant superintendent for human resources Greg Roberts said that number likely will increase as he has received “three or four” resignation notices in the last week.

The district has until May 15 to inform the teachers union of any reductions in force.

There were two recurring themes among 150 people — mostly teachers — who packed the school library to the point where some stood and watched from the hallway.

John Richardson, a fifth-grade teacher at Sidney Glen Elementary School, was the first among many educators to suggest during two hours of testimonials that the district first dip into its fund balance to avoid layoffs.

He cited a report by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction that placed SKSD’s fund balance at $9.1 million.

But board member Keith Garton said only about $3 million of that money is unreserved. SKSD board president Kathryn Simpson said it would be irresponsible to drain that fund.

She said the district must plan for contingencies, noting that the state House and Senate passed legislation in December that encompassed a $50 million reduction from public schools.

That included elimination of funding to keep class sizes smaller in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Those reductions came nearly midway through the school year when South Kitsap and other districts allocated those funds to hire teachers. Because of union contracts, Patton said SKSD simply could not layoff those employees.

She estimates that cost the district $795,000 this year.

In addition, Simpson said SKSD’s fund balance is below average in comparison to its peers. She cited a recent audit that indicated that money could sustain the district for 34 days without state subsidies.

The state average is 61 days.

“I take exception to comments that we have an exorbitant fund balance,” Simpson said.

SKSD board member Chris Lemke said another significant issue is enrollment. He said when he was the district’s levy chairman several years ago, enrollment in SKSD was 11,680, and that there now are fewer than 9,500 students in the district.

His colleague, Patty Henderson, noted that the district receives $5,000 from the state for each full-time equivalent student.

“A lot of this is enrollment-driven,” she said. “We have studied this for months and months. Our hands are tied.”

South Kitsap Education Association President Judy Arbogast said declining enrollment has contributed to the loss of 42 teachers since 2001-02.

Several teachers, including a few who have split-grade levels, spoke on class-size issues. Among them was Scott Hopkins, who instructs fifth and sixth graders at Sidney Glen.

“It feels like every day we’re being asked to do more, and every day it’s take more, take more, take more,” he said.

Kimberly Waterman, who teaches fifth and sixth graders at East Port Orchard Elementary, said larger classroom sizes have impacted standardized test results in her classroom.

“It really frustrates me that I cannot give fifth- and sixth-graders the best education,” she said. “You can’t be the best with two different curriculums at the same time.”

Simpson countered that most classrooms will see an average of no more than one additional student.

Ryan Manning’s voice broke with emotion as he spoke. The new math teacher at Mullenix Ridge Elementary School expressed concerns about not only low-achieving students, but how “middle” learners might fare when they cannot receive assistance.

“(Teachers) are so afraid about what is going to happen to these kids,” he said.

Elizabeth McAlister was the only non-teacher to speak at the meeting, and spoke of a teacher who may be laid off at Olalla Elementary School.

“I don’t know about cuts and rules and the budget,” she said. “But as the parent of a child and as someone as involved as I can be in the school, I’m just asking (that you cut) a little here and there … because I know at Olalla, that teacher will be missed.”

LaRose reiterated that SKSD’s reductions extend beyond teachers. According to district records, officials have cut $18.3 million from the budget in the last five years.

Those have ranged from energy conservation, such as lowering the temperature in gyms, to not filling several administrative and janitorial openings.

Unlike many neighboring districts, that came without issuing reduction-in-force notices.

SKSD officials already have announced some administrative cuts. Two district directors, Lori McStay (human resources) and Aimee Warthen (community relations), were notified last month that their positions would be terminated June 30. McStay since has been hired by the Clover Park School District.

In addition, LaRose, Roberts and Wagner will take four furlough days during the 2011-12 school year.

“I assure you we are fighting for children and the classroom experience,” LaRose said. “There is absolutely, positively less administration.”

SKSD’s board will host a “Community Conversation” from 5:30 to 8 p.m. April 27 at SKHS. The event, which is open to the public, will highlight the budget in addition to the district’s “Whole Child” philosophy. LaRose said the aim of that concept is to make each student feel safe, healthy, cared for and supported, engaged and connected, and challenged.

In addition to presentations, LaRose said there will be a question-and-answer segment.

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