In a cost-cutting move, the White River School District will combine its two 200-student elementary schools – Wickersham School of Discovery and Wilkeson – into one beginning in September.
The move is expected to save the district more than $310,000 as it looks for ways to trim more than $3 million from its already lean budget.
White River is no different than the 295 school districts across the state that are facing huge deficits in state funding. The Puyallup School District announced it will be looking to cut $10 million from its budget and neighboring Enumclaw will need to do without about $2 million.
“It’s the hard reality of what’s happening,” Superintendent Tom Lockyer said.
Blending Wilkeson and Wickersham is not the only measure the White River School District is planning. Twenty-one teachers will likely lose their jobs at a savings of nearly $1.8 million. Many of the details were not yet finalized as district leaders work with union leaders and employee contracts, but 12 of those positions are outlined for the elementary level. Three will likely be at the middle schools and six are proposed for the high school. Many of those positions were tied to voter-approved Initative-728 money that was earmarked by the state to reduce class size. The district expects to lose $512,000 in I-728 funding.
“The thing we, as school directors, talk about when we get together, is we all feel bad about this,” Lockyer said. “Unfortunately, they’ll be no place for them (these teachers) to go.”
The announcement came at the White River School Board’s Jan. 28 workshop, which was presented to a full house at the Glacier Middle School library. A more final version is expected at the board’s Feb. 25 workshop.
Lockyer said the district is trying to do what is best for all its 4,200 dwindling student population and although the cuts look devastating, district leaders are trying to preserve people and programs, but when 85 percent of the budget is in salaries and benefits and the shortfall is $3 million it’s going to be about people and programs.
At the high school it will partially come in a schedule change as it moves from a four-period schedule to a six-period day, allowing the district to use fewer teachers more efficiently. The high school will also drop its digitools and personal choices classes.
The high school will reorganize its administrative staff as well, eliminated its career and technical education director and athletic and activities director. Other administrative changes throughout the district are anticipated. All combined, it is expected to save the district $288,000 or more.
Programs that could be impacted through staff negotiations may be elementary physical education, as well as counseling, music, athletics, middle school electives and high school and CTE electives.
Look for less classified staff hours in the areas of maintenance, custodial, food service, health clerks, central office clerical, building technicians and educational assistants. These cuts are expected to save the district $256,000.
The popular Business Town program, which teaches students about money and ecomomics, will disappear, saving $20,000.
Math and science professional development, highly capable and the district’s math counselor are on the chopping block, expected to save $173,000.
Collins programs are still an unknown, as are impacts on special services. A Collins programs task force is expected to give its recommendations at the end of February, but changes are expected. Collins programs are a cooperative with the Enumclaw, Orting and Sumner school districts that include Collins High School, Collins Junior High, the Choice Program and distance and on-line learning programs. Part of the discussion is the rental of Collins facilities from the state’s Department of Social and Health Services for about $86,000 a year.
District leaders looked at sending sixth-grade students back to elementary school or combining its two middle schools, but decided against both options.
The Wilkeson/Wickerham combination, however, held merit due largely to the state’s funding formula, which supports elementary schools with 400 or more students.
To have two 200-student elementaries is not cost-effective, Lockyer noted. As a cost-saving measure last year, the two schools began to share one principal. Joining the two schools now will also save on utilities, transportation and staffing redundencies. The Wilkeson campus, with the capacity to hold more than 400 students and its recent renovation, was the best choice, Lockyer said.
District administrators will provide a transition team for both school’s teachers and PTAs.
Lockyer said he and his staff value the programs, staff, students and parents at Wickersham and Wilkeson and this is an opportunity for both to work collaboratively to create the kind of school they want their kids to attend.
For those who are interested in an alternative, forms will be available on the Web site for parents with a variety of options. Parents of Wickersham students will be able to return kids to their neighborhood school, homeschool or transfer to another district.
The district’s Web site, www.whiteriver.wednet.edu, will continue to keep parents abreast of the situation. There will also be an opportunity for parents and community members to respond to a survey or blog at the Web site.