Hoquiam schools to cut spending by $2 million

The Hoquiam School District is working on a plan to cut $2 million in spending by cutting staff before the start of the 2024-2025 school year in the fall, an action officials say is necessary to slow the depletion of the general fund due to the federal pandemic. dollars expire.

At the March 21 meeting, the district board authorized Superintendent Mike Villarreal to draft a reduction in force plan to be presented for approval at the next board meeting. A resolution approved by the board Thursday said the cuts could include administrative, certified and classified employees.

“It hurts,” Villarreal said Thursday. “I know these conversations are affecting families.

Villarreal said the district saw the writing on the wall last school year as it looked ahead to 2024, the August deadline for school districts to spend pandemic relief funds from the U.S. bailout plan. This year, Hoquiam will spend the last $3.3 million of the $7.7 million it received through 2021, according to Keith Ounsted, the district’s business manager.

Other than about $600,000 for the HVAC unit, most was spent on personnel. This expiration combines with Hoquiam’s pattern of declining enrollment, which has left the district with less funding for both building needs and staff maintenance.

Villarreal said many districts are also reducing force as pandemic funding expires, and he estimated Hoquiam’s financial situation is “probably a little bit better” than others.

“That doesn’t change the fact that this money is going out and our insurance rate and other things have gone up,” he said Thursday. “It puts us in a position where we have to really try to look at the sustainability of the district going forward.”

Unsted projects that without a plan to cut the district’s general fund spending, it would drop to $3.8 million in reserves at the end of the next school year. A $2 million reduction in spending would save the same amount before drawing from general fund reserves, but still means the district would have to dip $1 million into reserves.

Villarreal said the administration considered recommending a $3 million spending cut to avoid dipping into reserves, but decided it would be “too big a hit.”

He said he hoped belt-tightening could now negate the need for further reductions on the road.

Katie Beyer, president of the Hoquiam Teachers Union, said teachers were “very upset” when they learned of the staffing cuts earlier this month. She said she has since met with the superintendent to discuss concerns and hopes teachers will be involved throughout the process.

“The important thing I want to emphasize to the board is the importance of our teachers and para-educators,” Beyer said during Thursday’s school board meeting. “We really want you to hear that we are critical players. As we move forward, we want to make sure that teachers and skydivers have a place and a part of the discussion. We know so much about the day-to-day operations of our buildings, and we need to be heard when you make these critical decisions.”

Beyer argued for “fairness” and said the cuts “can’t all go to the people who are at the bottom of the seniority spectrum and the people who make the least money in the district.”

“We are the backbone of the district,” Jan Magri, union leader of the district’s undercover staff, said Thursday. “Hard working, probably the lowest paid. We stay in the classrooms, we stay on the playgrounds. We transport children by school buses to and from school and extracurricular activities. We maintain the technology, we take care of the buildings, we take care of the grounds.”

“We have to work to keep these people,” Magri added.

Before approving the cuts Thursday, board member Chris Eide said, “I see that we’re going to have to be strategic, think very carefully about everything we do and consider all the implications and all the inputs.”

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.

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