Centralia School District Plans to Cut All Sports and Several Other Programs Due to Budget Deficit

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Correction: Due to a reporter's error, an earlier version of this story indicated the school board had voted to cut sports and other programs. The school board did not hold a vote Wednesday but instead discussed cuts proposed by staff.

 

The Centralia School District is making plans to cut all sports programs next school year, along with other programs, citing a projected $11.9 million budget deficit caused by the failure of its levy and the COVID-19 crisis.

“Athletics is something that is 100 percent levy-funded and this is still a topic that we as a district continue to struggle with because we understand the importance of athletics to our community and to our students, however, if we don’t have levy funding, we, unfortunately, don’t have a funding source for that program,” said Tabitha Whiting, the district’s executive director of human resources. “So as of right now, there is no definitive plan to have athletics next year in Centralia.”

The Centralia School District is making plans to cut all sports programs next school year, along with other programs, citing a projected $11.9 million budget deficit caused by the failure of its levy and the COVID-19 crisis.

“Athletics is something that is 100 percent levy-funded and this is still a topic that we as a district continue to struggle with because we understand the importance of athletics to our community and to our students, however, if we don’t have levy funding, we, unfortunately, don’t have a funding source for that program,” said Tabitha Whiting, the district’s executive director of human resources. “So as of right now, there is no definitive plan to have athletics next year in Centralia.”

The school board voted during the May 5 school board meeting to approve “reduced educational program” resolution which laid off 90 district employees, and to make cuts to address the nearly $12 million projected deficit for the next school year, and directed staff to come up with a plan to do that. 

The cuts presented by staff Wednesday will be built into the 2020-2021 budget, which will be voted on by the board later this year after a public hearing process. The status of athletics programs could change depending on a variety of factors, including a levy on the August primary.

The deficit was created by the levy failure in February and the impacts of COVID-19 such as state-wide budget pressure and decreased student enrollment, according to the district.

Centralia School District Interim Superintendent Kristy Vetter spoke about the “guiding principles” that were used when deciding where to make cuts — the first of which was to “minimize to the extent possible, the impact on student learning.”

“We do have a $5.3 million renewal of our expiring EP&O levy on the ballot for August 4. That funding would help significantly reduce the fiscal impact on programs and staffing; however, we would still have a substantial deficit for 2020-21 due to other factors such as enrollment projection and state and federal funding matters that are not yet resolved,” said Vetter in a press release from the district earlier this month.

In February, Centralia School District ran a levy at a rate of $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value which failed with a 69 percent “no” vote. The district then put a levy on the ballot for the April special election at a rate of $2.00 / $1,000 but removed it from the ballot after the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent school closures. Most recently the school board voted to put a levy on the August 4 primary election ballot at a rate of $2.00 / $1,000.

Changes for the upcoming 2020-21 school year discussed Wednesday include increased core class sizes, split classes in the elementary schools — meaning one teacher will teach two different grade levels — elimination of band and strings for 6th grade, elimination of a certified librarian at the high school, reduced custodial support, no singular dedicated teacher for “highly capable” students, reduced grounds-keeping, reduction in classified intervention support, elimination of campus monitors, elimination of district funded sports — with a possibility for the development of an alternate, reduced-offering athletics plan — reduction of co-curricular activities (robotics, drama, clubs, etc.) and development of reduced program structure.

Some other results of the budget deficit include not adopting a new math curriculum next year, a reduction in the technology and supply budget and staffing, a reduction in public relations and communications budget and staff, “college in the classroom” reduction, and a reduction in support staff throughout the district, Whiting said.

Vetter said that even though the areas of reductions have been identified, the district is still in the process of building the 2020-21 budget and the planning process will include discussion about what can be brought back if the levy passes in August.

“The district, with the help of some very supportive athletic staff, is exploring if there are any ways we might be able to offer an alternate or reduced athletics program next year for varsity athletes. Nothing has yet been decided in that regard,” said Centralia School District Communications Officer Ed Petersen. 

Petersen said that the district will be having collaborative conversations with “stakeholder groups” about which programs and activities are of top priority to bring back if the levy passes in August.

“The district will be making some announcements soon about how that process will work and how we will manage invitations or requests to participate,” Petersen said.

As for student’s return to school in the fall, Vetter is anticipating changes to the traditional school day due to COVID-19 impacts. Although the district is not expecting to get final guidelines on changes in operation until after school is out, Vetter said she is expecting there to be requirements for students and staff to wear masks at school and limitations to be placed on the number of students on a school bus or in the cafeteria at one time.

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