Board authorizes hundreds of furloughs at Vancouver Public Schools

More than 600 will be laid off or have their hours reduced

One board member described it as the toughest vote of her career. 

Another said she has been losing sleep and will continue to lose sleep until the district can bring back as many affected employees as possible.

And the superintendent called it “gut wrenchingly painful” when he recommended to the board two resolutions authorizing the temporary layoffs/furloughs that will affect more than 600 employees of Vancouver Public Schools.

Vancouver Public Schools has been authorized to lay off hundreds of employees. File photo
Vancouver Public Schools has been authorized to lay off hundreds of employees. File photo

The two resolutions were unanimously approved by the Board of Directors at a school board meeting Tuesday night.

“These employees are friends, colleagues, and champions for children,” said Superintendent Steve Webb.

The resolutions means 447 will be laid off/furloughed and another 182 will have their hours reduced. Employees are scheduled to learn Wednesday of their status. The reduction in staff will begin Sept. 23. 

Among those affected: Service Employees International Union, which includes transportation, nutrition services, and safety. And from Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals, paraeducators, clerks, and secretaries. Special education paraeducators are exempt from the furloughs, the district noted.

Affected employees will keep their health benefits and can apply for unemployment.

The district is facing a $16 million budget shortfall this academic year due to the pandemic. Early estimates show that enrollment is down 1,100 students. 

Board member Kyle Sproul said it is a devastating reality.

Kathy Decker said she won’t sleep well until “we bring as many people back in the buildings … as we can.”

“By voting yes that should in no way indicate a lack of appreciation for our employees and the work that they do,” added board member Wendy Smith. “We love our employees. Our students love these employees. Our families love these employees.”

Before the vote, two people gave their thoughts on the subject during public comment.

James Goss, the lead district resource office for the district, asked that the board reevaluate the proposal for the number of layoffs proposed for security. 

Emily Corak spoke on behalf of paraeducators. 

“Kids are going through so much right now, especially our vulnerable ones,” she said. “What they need is more consistent adult presence, not less.”

The district started the school year in full remote learning. There is a plan for a hybrid schedule with students returning to school part-time. The district expects to bring back employees when students return to campus.