One of southwest Washington’s largest school districts says it will have to make significant cuts this year. Vancouver Public Schools told board members at a Tuesday night meeting that the district is facing an $11.4 million deficit.
The shortfall prompted the school board to approve a resolution that authorizes Superintendent Steve Webb to study program cuts and staff reduction, a move the district says is critical to balance the budget.
Webb said the district is in an immediate hiring freeze and will halt payment for materials, supplies and travel costs.
The district says new salary contracts with the teacher's union are partly to blame. The resolution points to financial setbacks "stemming from collective bargaining" with teacher and staff unions. Costs include $7.24 million from the new salary contract negotiated with the Vancouver Education Association and $2.1 million to the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals.
The resolution passed by a vote of 4-1, with the lone dissenting vote from board member Wendy Smith, who felt the language placed an unfair burden on union employees.
“The language I feel could be construed as putting misguided blame,” Smith said.
The rest of the board disagreed and felt the resolution was transparent in explaining the shortfall.
“This deficit does exist because we had to pay more to settle bargains,” said board vice president Mark Stoker, referring to the 12.5 percent pay increase for teachers.
Vancouver and other Washington school districts gave their teachers significant raises last summer as a result of school funding legislation from a landmark state Supreme Court ruling, called the McCleary decision. The disputes between the unions and the districts over teacher pay led to six school district strikes in Clark County that delayed the start of school.
Several board members also blamed the state Legislature’s new funding model, and said it still failed to properly fund basic education.
“The burden of this whole situation should be laid at the feet of the legislators who created it,” said board president Rosemary Fryer.
Webb will return to the board for an update Jan. 22 and will present recommended cuts by the end of March.