McCleary-based budget cuts finalized, staff salaries negotiated
By Elizabeth Lande, Copy & Managing Editor
In March, the school district released a tentative list of budget cuts aimed at keeping the district’s finances balanced. Included in the cuts were recommended staff reductions, which sparked outcry from faculty and community members alike.
Now, after a district-wide public meeting, union pay negotiations, and the conclusion of the state legislative session, the budget cuts have been finalized.
While staffing reductions were always seen as necessary by the district, no employees or faculty members have been let go. Instead, reductions were made through resignations, retirements, and leaves of absence. The total staffing departures equate to paying 4.9 fewer faculty members.
Students and community members have expressed concern over a reduction in any form of teaching staff, citing the necessity of quality instruction. The district is adamant that students continue to be set up for success, and that a reduction in staff does not lower quality.
Superintendent Slade McSheehy agrees.
“[We] want the best things for kids,” McsSheehy said. “We want kids to feel like they belong, we want them to thrive, and we want them to contribute.”
The budget cuts were largely proposed and then finalized as a result of the McCleary court case, which ruled the state must fully fund public education. It ultimately increased the funds each district received, thus opening the door for higher wages when teachers renegotiate their contracts.
However, McCleary also changed the pay schedule system, which determines teacher salaries based on their level of education and years of experience.
“Every three years, we renegotiate the contract,” Vashon Education Association (VEA) high school representative Matt Tilden said. “But this time, as we’re renegotiating the contract, we also have to create a new salary schedule.”
Previously, each district in the state followed the state salary schedule, but the McCleary decision requires that districts create their own.
The district hopes to settle on a salary schedule and contract agreement that increases pay in a sustainable manner, keeping pay competitive with neighboring districts while balancing the budget.
The faculty groups within the district are in various stages of securing competitive wage increases.
In the fall of 2018, Vashon Education Support Personnel negotiated for a three-year contract, gaining a 16 percent raise in the first year, and two percent each year for the following two years.
The Service Employees International Union staff, including grounds and kitchen workers, negotiated a 12 percent increase in the first year, followed by three percent each year for the next two years.
VEA, building administrators, and district employees not represented by a union have yet to finalize their negotiations.
Settling on competitive wage increases is difficult due to the way in which the McCleary decision distributes funds. Districts receive money based on their student population, and the McCleary decision increased those funds based on the cost of living in each district. While the majority of the districts in the surrounding region received an 18 percent increase, Vashon’s funds only increased 12 percent.
Challenges also stemmed from the fact that many districts, including Vashon, employ more personnel than the state deems necessary. These so-called extra staff are paid for by local property tax levees. Hoping to even the field between rich and poor districts, the McCleary decision capped levees, limiting the amount each district could raise. The levee situation, combined with lower relative funding from the state, led the district to make budget cuts in order to remain competitive.
“We have to constantly stay competitive,” McSheehy said. “But we also have to make that adjustment knowing that we didn’t get the funding that we needed. … I feel confident that the reductions we made last year … and now this year … [have] put us in position to be competitive.”
The district still faces changes in the coming months as it waits for the state to announce how much funding each district will receive. Because the budgets are planned prior to this announcement, there remains a possibility that the district has overestimated its funding, and further cuts will have to be made. However, an underestimate is possible as well.
Despite the uncertain road ahead, McSheehy remains optimistic about the district’s future, both economically and as an educational community.
“I’m very hopeful about the future and continuing to fund the kind of programs we want to fund and also to be able to … value all of our employees by showing they [deserve] a competitive wage,” McSheehy said.