Saturday, May 18, 2024

Cascade School District prepares for budget cuts in 2024-2025 academic year

Cascade School District Superintendent Tracey Edou, Board Chairman Trey Ising, and high school and middle school choir director Isabella Garcia. To help balance the 2024-2025 district budget, among a series staffing cuts and adjustments, Garcia’s choral department is being eliminated. Edou’s office and the Board have issued a Modified Staffing Plan to outline the district-wide cuts.
Cascade School District Superintendent Tracey Edou, Board Chairman Trey Ising, and high school and middle school choir director Isabella Garcia. To help balance the 2024-2025 district budget, among a series staffing cuts and adjustments, Garcia’s choral department is being eliminated. Edou’s office and the Board have issued a Modified Staffing Plan to outline the district-wide cuts.
COURTESY OF CASCADE SCHOOL DISTRICT
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LEAVENWORTH – In January, The Leavenworth Echo reported that Cascade School District (CSD) was facing financial pressure primarily due to revenue decreases, unforeseen inflationary expenses, and enrollment declines (CSD grapples with budget woes amid enrollment declines and inflation challenges, January 31, 2024). Now, as the district approaches its budget season, with a state-mandated deadline in July, it has unveiled to the staff a Modified Staffing Plan (the Plan) for the 2024-2025 academic year. The Plan includes deep reductions in personnel across the district’s schools and departments.

CSD’s revenue shortfalls are partially the result of the cessation of federal COVID relief funds and lower state and federal per-student funding. The district is plagued by persistent enrollment declines due to Running Start, a program that has led to increasing numbers of high school juniors and seniors attending Wenatchee Valley College, and a limited housing market in the Upper Valley for young families. 

Substantive jumps in insurance premiums and a ballooning payroll, the latter of which accounts for over ninety percent of the budget, are main factors contributing to the district’s climbing expenses. 

To counteract these challenges, CSD superintendent Tracey Edou announced that “we are tightening our belt, but not at the expense of our students’ education. While staffing reductions through attrition, to align with our current enrollment, are necessary, our commitment to student-centered learning remains unwavering.” 

The Plan outlines specific actions for each school within the district.

At Peshastin-Dryden Elementary School, adjustments include reducing special education and secretarial staff via attrition and reassigning personnel from other buildings.

Beaver Valley Elementary is a two-room “Remote and Necessary” school; its status is mandated by the state and quadrennially reviewed by the Washington State Board of Education and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). While no staff reductions are planned for Beaver Valley, its paraeducator (an instructional assistant or teacher’s aide) will assume custodial duties to reduce district-wide custodial hours.

Reductions in special education paraeducators and teaching staff, including one teacher in both the fourth and fifth grades, among other personnel modifications, are planned for Alpine Lakes Elementary School.

At Icicle River Middle School (IRMS), which also houses Kodiak Cubs, a preschool and pre-kindergarten program, reductions include the assistant principal position, special education paras, the choral department, and the sharing of administrative roles and responsibilities.

Home Link is an Alternative Learning Experience, which operates under the guidelines of the State of Washington and CSD. The program will see a shift in curriculum management to the district office.

Changes at Cascade High School (CHS) include adjustments in administrative responsibilities, the elimination of the choral department, one math, and .75 of an English teaching position.

Athletics will see the reduction of two assistant coaching positions through attrition.

Adjustments at District Operations include the reallocation of certain duties and, through attrition, reduction of positions, including the food services director, a bus driver, and a custodian.

District-wide Support will see the elimination of a special education director, a special education secretary, a school nurse, and a social worker.

The Discovery School is a program of CHS with the same administration as Cascade High School. Kodiak Virtual Academy was not mentioned in the Plan. 

Overall, in the Plan, the district reports a total reduction of 30.6 positions, with 21 due to attrition and 13 available for reassignment. In its communications with staff and student families, the district has stated that “no teachers are being fired; some may, however, need to take a different position next school year.”

The district also states that, in addition to reducing spending, it will be actively working on strategies to “move forward in a direction that aligns with continuous student development,” including seeking grant funding, Career and Technical Education expansion, identification of areas for efficiency improvements, and continuing to work on attracting and retaining students.

The district is also partnering with Icicle Creek Center of the Arts and Village Art in the Park “to solve the problem of how to fund visual arts in grades K-8.” As for the choral department, Edou disclosed that she thinks “we figured out a plan for the high school with [former choral director and current American Sign Language teacher Mindy] Wall possibly being a part time choral director. That’s the hope. We have some time to figure it out.”

Current CHS and IRMS choral director Isabella Garcia, who had announced her resignation prior to the announcement of budget cuts, voiced a common opinion in the community when, in an email to district staff, she stated: “I understand the dilemma our district and many others face as expenses rise and funding for education from the state and federal government continues to drop . . . [and t]he arts are always the first to go . . . I do not believe this problem will be solved with any amount of budgeting unless we use our voices to make it clear to our government representatives that education needs to be prioritized and properly funded.” Garcia also announced that she will be assisting in the effort to restore the choral departments by next year.

When asked about staff morale in the district, Edou asserted that “getting to a sustainable place where people don’t think the ground is shifting underneath them is going to help. I do feel that the uncertainty has been tough. For the last few months, people knew that adjustments would have to be made, which caused the uncertainty. But once people know what is going on next year, that uncertainty will go away.” 

Edou explained, “We were taken by surprise this year. We really were. We did a lot of budget planning last year. So, [it was a] surprise that we overestimated revenue and underestimated expenses. We accept responsibility for what happened and have to be more diligent, so it doesn’t happen in the future.”

Cascade School Board Chairman Trey Ising concurred: “We had unexpected expenses this year that we couldn’t anticipate. Our budget process happens in June and our insurance was raised in August. So that was outside of our budget constraints already by $200,000. That hurts when you are operating on a shoestring budget.” Ising also averred that “we are audited every year and last year received the okay. We followed state rules and OSPI [Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction] guidelines. [Nonetheless,] our goal in the future is always to make sure we have some wiggle room.”

As the district navigates these challenges, it announced that “its priorities for the upcoming year remain centered on maintaining educational excellence, student outcomes, and compliance with state and federal guidelines.”

For additional details on CSD finances and budget cuts, follow the link below:

https://www.cascadesd.org/page/financial-situation-2023-2024

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