Board work session

At a special board work session, Superintendent Steve Webb presented a revised budget to the board of directors.

Said Webb, “On July 2, Vancouver Public Schools’ five-member board provided direction to operationalize the 2015-16 budget. Due to the timing of the release of the state’s consensus budget, our leadership team scrambled and worked noncontract days to hire staff and plan for program implementation based on that direction.

“This past week, VPS’ four-member board failed to achieve a majority vote to act on the 2015-16 budget consistent with the board’s July 2 direction.

“As the board knows, a budget must be adopted by Aug. 31. Given the context, I am recommending some staffing adjustments within the existing general fund budget appropriations. I want to be clear, my recommendation this morning does not change the total amount of the budget, it simply modifies staffing deployment and expenses within the budget.

“I am recommending that we deploy an additional 6.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) elementary counselors for 2015-16 for $500,000. This would add a total of 12.8 elementary counseling FTE over last year’s budget to ensure that every elementary school would have at a minimum of one full-time counselor. This will increase elementary counseling services by 80 percent year-over-year. Overall, 16.6 positions have been added to this year’s budget in K-12 counseling services, an increase of 40 percent. The total K-12 counseling investment in 2015-16 is approximately $1.5 million. As Chief Fiscal Operator Brett Blechschmidt reported at the public hearing and board meeting on Aug. 11, additional student services investments also are built into the 2015-16 budget, including nurses, psychologists, mental health specialists and Family-Community Resource Center coordinators. This additional investment is approximately $650,000 in student service supports. The grand total, with the additional recommendation of 6.6 elementary counselors, year-over-year is $2.15 million in student services.

“There are several choices to fund the additional 6.6 counselors in this morning’s recommendation:

  1. Release a portion of contingency staffing now before the Sept. 8 official student count date. As the board knows, our budget is driven by student enrollment. Our practice is to build a staffing contingency reserve. If our enrollment forecast materializes, additional staff is released to help address staff overloads and class size consistent with the Vancouver Education Association collective bargaining agreement. This also provides a buffer for the district in the event student enrollment does not materialize. As you may recall, seven years ago the district missed the enrollment forecast by a couple of hundred students. This staffing contingency reserve was used to cover the budget shortfall without making program or staffing cuts. It’s as if the staff positions never existed. Given our conservative enrollment forecast, we are moderately confident that using some of this staffing contingency would not expose the district to much risk in the event that enrollment comes in below forecast.
  2. Finally, on July 21, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) released new levy equalization adjustment (LEA) pivot tables that provided a small increase to the district’s LEA above the estimate shared on July 2. As you know, we model the budget to the best of our ability. There are always small adjustments once OSPI releases pivot tables. LEA calculations are shaped significantly by assessed valuations across the state, which is why the state pivot table is so critically important. This slight adjustment of $250,000 provides some unencumbered revenue that could be used for additional counseling.

“Alternately, you could:

  1. Make cuts elsewhere in the budget, and since approximately 85 percent of the budget is invested in people, that means a reduction in force. I am not recommending this solution.
  2. Reduce materials and supply budgets by 5 percent where practical. During the Great Recession, we deployed a 10 percent reduction strategy to save approximately $1 million, which was applied in subsequent budget years to stabilize the district’s workforce. I am not recommending this solution.”

Discussion by Board Vice President Edri Geiger focused on providing more counselors, mental health specialists and drug and alcohol specialists in the middle and high schools. Director Kathy Gillespie also advocated for more services to students, saying she wanted everything the district spends to go toward the achievement and success of students.

Brenda Martinek, executive director of special services, said that the district has recently partnered with seven mental health providers that school staff can access to provide additional services to students. The partnership includes a continuity of services to support the whole family. Martinek added that they will gather baseline data this year to identify additional needs to improve services.

Geiger and Gillespie continued to advocate for more services for students. Board President Mark Stoker noted that the goal of serving students and meeting their needs is the same goal shared by each of the board members. Dr. Webb pointed out that 95 percent of the 2015-16 budget investments are classroom and school-based supports.

Board meeting: 2015-16 operating budget

Board President Stoker convened the special board meeting. Stoker noted that the public had the opportunity to comment on the budget at the Aug. 11 public hearing and board meeting and, therefore, there would be no public comment at this special meeting of the board. A motion was made by Vice President Geiger to hear public comment. Director Gillespie seconded the motion. Directors Dale Rice and Stoker did not support the motion. The motion did not pass.

Superintendent Steve Webb stated that following the Aug. 11 public hearing and board meeting a revision was made to the proposed budget to include an additional 6.6 FTE counseling positions to be paid from contingency funds in the proposal. This revision allows each elementary school to have a minimum of one full-time counselor.

“With this additional staffing, elementary counseling support will increase by 80 percent year-over-year. Total 2015-16 budgeted K-12 counseling services has increased by approximately $1.5 million. The total support services has increased by $2.15 million year-over-year. It’s the recommendation that the Board of Directors adopt Resolution 756 providing for the 2015-16 budget,” said Webb.

“I appreciate the progress that’s been made and I acknowledge that we’ve made lots of progress,” said Gillespie. “The budget, in my mind, still has some room for improvement in the areas of middle school and high school support, mental wellness and learning support. … I’m not comfortable with certain things that have been left out. I’m very comfortable with what’s been added in. But we have more than just elementary school students and I can’t, in good conscience, turn my back on my middle school and my high school kids because their needs are just as great. I believe we have the resources. I think we need to do a little more work.”

“On July 2 we gave the superintendent the direction to implement the budget that was recommended,” responded Stoker. “And on Aug. 11 we didn’t pass it. We have three weeks until school starts, and we need to have a budget approved. … I don’t disagree with a lot of the substance that you bring forward, but three weeks before school starts is not the time to start deconstructing the entire budget and rebuilding it. What we tried to find today is a pathway through to address some of the concerns that were expressed last week and the ability to get consensus from this board on this budget.”

At Stoker’s request, Webb noted that expense categories in the budget could be discussed further following the adoption of the budget. “The resolution is asking you to act on the authorization amounts in five budgets: the general fund, the transportation vehicle fund, the capital projects fund, the debt service fund and ASB fund. Expense activity within the general fund can be modified and often is as a result of new context, new circumstances, emergencies that surface, etc.”

“If it’s the board’s interest to continue the conversation, you can act on this resolution today. There may be greater flexibility within the context of the budget, given student enrollment that materializes, which might provide greater flexibility to respond to the interests that have been advocated for, if that is the direction of the board,” said Webb.

“I think we need to go back again to what we were initially talking about,” said Geiger. “It’s a good start; I like having a counselor in every elementary school. … My list also had to do with focus on the secondary level as well.”

The board meeting continued at length with comments and discussion regarding student needs, process and areas of the budget that could be redirected to provide direct student and classroom support.
Rice agreed that the district needs more counselors. He said, “We also need more teachers specific to the needs of students. Our

[students needing] free and reduced-price meals has gone up, creating lots of challenges in the system. No one’s disagreeing with the heart of what you’re saying. We just have to afford what we do in a comfortable way. Relying on the administration to make that call is what we should be doing. They’re the professionals—they operate the district day-to-day. I have no doubt that we all want to improve the system from a needs-based [approach]—emotional needs and educational needs—but we have to afford what we come up with. If we have extra money, then I’m on that team.”

Ultimately, the board failed to adopt Resolution 756 to approve the budget. Stoker and Rice voted to approve the budget; Gillespie voted no and Geiger abstained.