More than 100 Battle Ground Public Schools employees furloughed

The classified employees will still be able to access healthcare benefits

BATTLE GROUND — More than 100 classified employees with Battle Ground Public Schools will be starting the school year on furlough. 

In an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors on Friday, Shelly Whitten, the district’s assistant superintendent in charge of human resources, says the affected employees largely have no duties with students starting the year fully online.

“Hourly employees only get paid for the hours they work,” said Whitten, “and so we have to have work for them to do.”

The CASEE building, home to the Battle Ground School District administrative offices. File photo
The CASEE building, home to the Battle Ground School District administrative offices. File photo

The move impacts 107 of the district’s 685 classified employees, according to a statement provided to Clark County Today.

“These are very difficult decisions,” district officials stated. “The public health crisis is a challenging environment. Health officials recommend remote learning as the best option right now to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but it comes with multiple costs for staff, students, families and the district.”

Making the decision to furlough those employees now, Whitten said, will allow them to apply for unemployment benefits through the Summer months, as well as maintaining access to healthcare benefits if they continue to pay their monthly premiums.

The decision impacts roughly 73 special education assistants, 28 crossing guards, four preschool instructors, and two office positions in community education. 

In its release, the district noted that the decision to freeze hiring in early August and leave more than 60 positions unfilled likely prevented further staff reductions. 

“We hate to have to do this,” Whitten told the board. “But due to COVID and being in a remote learning situation, we just don’t see that we have any option.”

Whitten said, depending on where enrollment ends up, the district may need to make further cuts, though they remained hopeful that most of the furloughs would be short-term until schools open back up.

Earlier last week, Evergreen School District also announced that 475 classified employees were being furloughed, at least temporarily due to potential budget cuts and a lack of work.

Free school lunch program extended

During last Friday’s meeting, the board was told approximately 133 bus drivers would remain on summer furlough, as well as food service staff. Those employees are staffed through contracts with outside companies. 

That decision was based largely on the assumption that the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) had determined not to extend a waiver program allowing districts to provide free breakfast and lunch to students during online-only education.

On Monday, State School Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced that USDA had reversed course and agreed to extend the waiver through the end of the year.

“With these waivers, schools can continue providing healthy, nutritious meals at no cost to all students who need them,” said Reykdal in a news release. “Schools can continue using the processes they developed last spring, which resulted in more than 28 million meals being served to students who were learning at a distance.”

That program may also allow some bus drivers to return to work, as many districts used buses to deliver free meals to areas where parents and students could pick them up.

Reykdal said the state is pushing to have the program extended through the entirety of the 2020-21 school year.