Battle Ground School District set to eliminate teaching positions

Student enrollment declines are blamed for the bulk of the staffing cutbacks

BATTLE GROUND — The Battle Ground School District is facing staffing cutbacks, due largely to an unexpected decline in student enrollment.

Battle Ground School Board meets to discuss cuts to district teaching staff. Photo by Chris Brown
Battle Ground School Board meets to discuss cuts to district teaching staff. Photo by Chris Brown

A reluctant group of school board members approved the cuts at their meeting Monday night without any objections. The district is forecasting a student population decline of around 472 students across all schools. Linda Allen, the district’s assistant superintendent of Human Resources, said the process of figuring out how many positions would be eliminated was complicated by the recent boundary changes, “so it wasn’t just a straight staffing situation.”

A total of 44 full-time positions are on the list to be eliminated, although Allen said most of those will come through retirements or teachers leaving for other jobs.

“At this point, we are going to have approximately 15 positions (eliminated),” said Allen.

Among the positions eliminated will be 16 high school teachers, eight 5-8 grade teachers, 6.5 primary K-4 specialists, and 7 math interventions specialists. The elimination of those math positions will also affect 14 non-certificated math education assistants, though Allen said it’s hoped that most of them can find other positions in the district.

“They can begin looking for other jobs, they can file for unemployment,” said Allen when asked what the displaced teacher’s options will be. “They will stay on a list in the human resource office and any positions that open up will be compared to that list before anything is posted.”

The district is also cutting one teacher on a special assignment (TOSA) position, along with one administrator position. Overall, the district expects to save around $3 million through the staffing reductions.

“We still have staff that would be considered unfunded, according to the state model,” said District Superintendent Mark Ross. “Part of it is the decisions we’ve made in Battle Ground around social-emotional learning and wanting to have more, for example, nurses and counselors in sites than the state prototypical model.”

The district estimates the state’s new cap on local levy dollars, which pay for unfunded positions as well as additional teacher salaries, cost them just over $5.5 million on the 2019-2020 budget, while salary and benefit increases have gone up by just over $7 million.

Despite the recent raises given to teachers in the wake of the state’s additional education funding, Allen says she doesn’t believe there would have been many teaching positions cut in the district if student enrollment had been as forecast.

This coming year, the district is forecasting that student enrollment will remain largely unchanged.

“We also have concerns about what happens if we lose more students next year,” said Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters. “We hope for an increased enrollment, but we do fear a reduction.”

The district is taking $2.5 million from their emergency funding to help reduce staffing cuts for this coming year. That funding had been set aside for adoption of new curriculum in several grade levels, but that bill won’t be due until next year so Waters says it gives them a little extra time to see if legislators come through.

“Our plan is to do a little finger-crossing and hope that the legislature comes through with some additional funding,” Waters said, “but then re-look at that after next year in terms of where we are for overall funding for the district.”

Ross said he was grateful to Linda Peterson, president of the Battle Ground Education Association, for their help in trying to make the staff reductions as painless as possible.

The board is expected to discuss the potential elimination of several classified positions at their meeting on May 13.

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