The Tacoma School District has eliminated 14 administrative positions, totaling $16 million in payroll and program reductions. The cuts came in its effort to fill a $23.4 million shortfall this year that was caused by the state’s new formula in funding public education and unbudgeted raises for teachers following the week-long strike to gain wages that were competitive with surrounding districts.
The next phase of reductions will look at additional eliminations in administrative and support services positions as well as other cost savings to reduce spending by another $7.4 million this school year.
“Our goal through this difficult process is to keep these reductions as far from the classroom as possible,” said Superintendent Carla Santorno.
Some of the people affected by the layoffs have the credentials for vacant certificated positions across the district and will shift to those jobs immediately. The next round of cuts will come as early as next week.
“We want to get the deficit dealt with as soon as we can, have plans for how to handle the work being done by those whose positions are eliminated and treat our employees with respect and compassion through the process,” district spokesman Dan Voelpel said.
The district hopes that the state legislature changes the funding formula it drafted during the last session to fulfill the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision that determined the state was not adequately funding public education. The new formula funneled more money to schools over all but led to less funding for urban districts like Tacoma. The new formula, for example, allows some school districts in wealthier communities to collect up to $2,500 per student in voter-approved levies, while districts like Tacoma, which serve high-poverty urban areas, can collect only $1,500 per student – even if voters had already approved higher levy amounts.
Voters approved a $72 million level earlier this year, for example, but the new state formula only allows the district to collect $40 million of that. The difference of $32 million fueled the shortfall and could bleed into future years. Without a legislative change to allow higher amounts, Tacoma could face a shortfall of $38 million next school year.
The gloomy budget picture also comes at a time when the unionized bus drivers of special needs students have staged a rolling “sick out” every day so far this week, often leaving about half of the district’s special needs students without transportation to school. Two dozen drivers called in sick Monday morning while 26 called in sick Tuesday and 22 did so on Wednesday. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 286 represents 56 drivers who bus the special needs students to Tacoma schools. Their contract is not up for negotiations for another year.
These bus drivers are separate from the First Student driver, which provides transportation to the bulk of Tacoma students through a contract that started this year.