Enrollment declines force Battle Ground school district to issue more employee furloughs

Districts across the state will have more time to see if enrollment numbers recover this month

BATTLE GROUND — Facing larger-than-expected enrollment declines, Battle Ground Public School district is putting more classified and hourly employees on furlough.

The district had previously put a hiring freeze in place early in August, and then furloughed 107 classified employees earlier this month, both of which saved an estimated $6 million.

“These are very difficult decisions,” said Superintendent Mark Ross in a release from the district. “I know it can be traumatic to lose work and have to change jobs. I recognize the effect this has on people. It’s our hope that we can safely return to in-person learning soon, and begin to bring furloughed staff back.” 

The CASEE Center, home to Battle Ground Public Schools administrative offices. File photo
The CASEE Center, home to Battle Ground Public Schools administrative offices. File photo

This week’s furloughs will impact 152 staff members in 235 classified positions, said the district, and will equate to a reduction in hours equaling approximately 60 full-time equivalent staff.

The positions on furlough include basic education assistants (lab, lunch and bus duty), office and health room assistants, campus security, media technicians, intervention specialists, and discipline clerks. 

Since most of the district’s 685 classified employees are hourly, and students are starting the school year fully online, many would have seen their hours reduced to the point that it made more sense for them to claim unemployment, said Assistant Superintendent Shelly Whitten, who runs human resources for the district.

“It allows us to give them greater flexibility in what they receive through unemployment insurance,” said Whitten, while acknowledging that some employees may see their income impacted by the furloughs.

Furloughed employees can also retain access to healthcare and other benefits, so long as they are able to continue paying their premiums.

Districts across Clark County have seen enrollment numbers come in below already dismal estimates. 

In Battle Ground, enrollment is down nearly 1,100 students over this time last year, approximately 9 percent lower than budgeted. If those numbers hold up, it would represent a loss of nearly $10 million in state funding for the district.

“The budget is a plan,” said Meagan Hayden, the district’s Chief Financial Officer. “It gives us a place to start and a direction. Now that we have more concrete enrollment numbers, we can make more certain adjustments and maintain our fiscal responsibility.”

The district also anticipates that fully online school will bring cost savings in terms of classroom supplies, as well as utilities. 

However, the remote learning platform includes other added costs, such as technology, wi-fi hotspots for students without reliable internet access, online curricula investments, and upgrades to networking equipment. The district has also purchased personal protective equipment and made safety adjustments to buildings to prepare for in-person learning.

There is still a chance the funding picture could improve. 

This week the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) notified districts that it was extending the amount of time they had to calculate enrollment for the month of September. Ordinarily, districts must report head counts within the first four days of the school year.

Instead, OSPI is allowing districts to count enrollment through Sept. 23, and then use the final week of the month to determine enrollment for October. 

Whitten noted at Monday’s Board of Directors meeting that they have seen more students logging on since the start of the school year, and anticipate that enrollment numbers will improve further once students can begin returning to classrooms, potentially as early as October.

Should those students fail to materialize, the district warned, further staff reductions could be necessary.