LONG BEACH PENINSULA — For now, layoffs of Ocean Beach School District teaching staff are on ice.
That was the word from OBSD Superintendent Amy Huntley at a May 13 special school board meeting, which was the last opportunity the district had to make cuts to its certified teaching workforce ahead of the 2020-21 school year. State law requires school districts to notify certified teachers by May 15 at the latest if they are going to be rehired for the following school year.
Huntley reiterated that the vast majority of the funding OBSD receives from the state is technically constitutionally protected by the McCleary Decision as basic education funding. However, with the state facing a likely significant budget shortfall, she said the district shouldn’t automatically assume those funds will stay untouched and acknowledged the district is taking “a little gamble” on the budget.
“We’re still getting very patchy, difficult information regarding potential budget [cuts] for next year,” said Huntley. “We really don’t know what may happen with the budget.”
The decision to not move forward with a reduction in force, Huntley said, was partly due to the district being on steady financial footing with a good cash reserve. It was also due in part to expected attrition, with at least one teacher not returning next year and several other teachers looking to relocate to be closer to family.
Huntley also said OBSD is in a good place when it comes to the size of the district’s staff compared to what the state’s prototypical model suggests it should be at for the number of students it serves. While OBSD is already at that level, other districts are now trying to cut down to the level suggested by the state in order to cut expenses.
Cuts could still be coming
Huntley cautioned, however, that cuts to non-certified staff and school programs could come later in the year as the logistics for the new school year become more clear. She said while OBSD is at the level suggested by the state for certified staff, the district is “way over” the suggested level for classified staff.
“I think we need [the classified level we’re at] — we’re going to hold it as long as we can, but ultimately if in the fall we don’t come back to regular school, that’s going to have impacts on the classified staff. As much as we don’t want to do that, it simply will have impacts,” Huntley said.
Programs for students won’t be cut, Huntley said, until she knows she has to do so. Programs that may be subjected to being cut include those that do not receive state funding and do not directly impact the classroom. OBSD will also look to limit out-of-district travel, such as conferences and field trips.
The hope for OBSD and other school districts in the state is that a special session of the Washington State Legislature will be held in this summer, before the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, to deal with the anticipated loss of billions of dollars of state revenue. Gov. Jay Inslee said he is likely to call for a special session later this year, although a specific date has yet to be set.
Even though the session may not occur before the district’s budget must be published, by the end of July, it would give OBSD a good idea of what their budget needs to look like.
“We’re going to have to make a budget based on best knowledge, and then make revisions if the legislature comes through and makes significant changes,” Huntley said.
District to receive CARES funding
At the May 13 meeting, Huntley informed school board members that OBSD has been designated about $216,000 in funds from the federal CARES Act.
The district was designated to receive the relief funds because it receives Title I funding. Title I funds are disbursed to school districts with a high percentage of children from low-income families. OBSD received $285,563 in Title I funds in the 2019 fiscal year.
Barring further legislation from the federal government, Huntley clarified this would be a one-time addition to the district’s budget. Huntley said there is nothing in the CARES Act that forbids the state from disbursing the $216,000 to OBSD, only for the state legislature to then withhold $216,000 in state funds that would normally be disbursed to the district.
The CARES Act funds can be used for student support, as well as items like personal protective equipment, which would be a new expense for the school district if in-person learning is able to resume in the fall.