Staff photo/Hayley Day
                                San Juan Island School District Board member Jack McKenna discusses the district’s “prudent fiscal management.”

Staff photo/Hayley Day San Juan Island School District Board member Jack McKenna discusses the district’s “prudent fiscal management.”

San Juan Island School District implements hiring freeze after large support for levy renewal | Update

Despite support for the new school levy, the San Juan Island School District Board is implementing a hiring freeze.

At the April 25 meeting, the school district board unanimously voted not to hire additional staff, even to replace those who leave, thanks to a budget crunch.

The district is expecting to lose funds, despite the high approval of the schools’ recent local property tax renewal, thanks to new state laws on education funding, as well as a possible dip in enrollment which will allocate fewer state dollars to island public schools.

The hiring freeze follows the announcement by an Oregon school district board on April 16 that San Juan Island School District Superintendent Danna Diaz has been selected to oversee their district, though she has not yet resigned from her local position.

Three board members were in attendance and voted for the hiring freeze on April 25: Ralph Hahn, Barbara Bevens and Jack McKenna.

Funding

Island voters overwhelmingly supported a property tax levy for the district on April 24, but the state laws lessen the revenue districts can raise locally.

Initial results from the April 24 election show that roughly 70 percent of voters approved the district’s property tax levy and it will likely pass when remaining votes are tallied and the election is certified on May 4.

However, new legislation that regulates school districts’ property tax levies is estimated to leave the local district roughly $400,000 short of last year’s levy revenue over two years. For more information on state changes to public school funding, read “San Juan Island School District looks to renew levy, in wake of state education tax hike” in the March 28 edition of the Journal.

The district also projects to lose 10 students in the 2018-19 school year from the following year, which means the state will pay for less full-time certified teachers, essentially providing fewer state monies to the district.

McKenna said the exact amount of funds the district will receive in the 2018-19 school year is unknown at this time. However, the state mandates that the district staff notify their employees if they will be rehired for the following year on May 1, after press day. He would not share if anyone would be laid off.

A report on enrollment projection from an April 18 meeting shows that the board projects to lose .54 full-time certified teachers next school year. Hahn told the Journal that the board would rather see teachers leave willingly than force them out.

“Rather than dismissing teachers, we are going to see if they leave through attrition; teachers who choose to leave the district,” he said.

Last September, the district’s 55 union teachers went on strike for one school day of the 2017-18 school year and negotiated a 3 percent pay raise for that school year.

On April 25, the board also passed a motion to research how a 10 percent reduction in supplies, operating expenses and contracted services would affect the district. Contracted services include the district’s technology staff and athletic coaches, said Hahn.

“We’re not approving anything,” he said. “We just want to see what it will look like.”

Amy Hull, president of the district’s teachers’ union said the organization was “surprised” by the “hasty” hiring freeze decision and that there are enough state and local funds “to maintain a stable and healthy revenue forecast.”

The Washington Legislature secured additional state education funds last March.

“As we begin negotiations for the 18-19 school year, we are filled with hope for the future,” she added.

Superintendent

Superintendent Danna Diaz has not given her resignation, but a press release published by the Reynolds School District in Fairview, Oregon on April 16 stated that district’s board selected her as their new superintendent and they have entered contract negotiations with Diaz.

If state-mandated staff is lost with the hiring freeze in place, McKenna said the board would have to vote to suspend the freeze before onboarding new employees.

At the April 25 meeting, the San Juan Island School Board discussed possible outcomes if Diaz submits her resignation.

Hahn noted that there is not enough money in the budget to search for a replacement for Diaz, so the board discussed possibly hiring an interim superintendent, making the position part-time or adding that job to a principal’s duties. The board did not make any decisions on possibly replacing Diaz and urged the public to provide input to board members. See below for board members’ contact information.

Hahn added that the state allocates only enough funds to the district for a part-time superintendent, due to the small size of the district. However, he “couldn’t see” how a part-time position would take over Diaz’s workload today.

If Diaz resigns, Hahn said the board would have to be notified by the end of June. For more information on the district, visit www.sjisd.wednet.edu/domain/331.

San Juan Island School District Board Contacts

Barbara Bevens: barbarabevens@sjisd.wednet.edu, PO Box 2594 Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Ralph Hahn: ralphhahn@sjisd.wednet.edu, 150 Sutherland Rd., Friday Harbor, WA 98250

John Kurtz: johnkurtz@sjisd.wednet.edu, PO Box 3222 Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Jack McKenna: jackmckenna@sjisd.wednet.edu, 154 Dream Lake Rd., Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Sarah Werling-Sandwith: sarahwerling-sandwith@sjisd.wednet.edu; 100 Quail Crossing Rd. Friday Harbor, WA 98250