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The Ellensburg School District could be seeing significant staffing reductions, according to Brian Aiken, the district’s executive director of Business Services.

The district is getting a significant budget cut, due to the one-two punch of COVID-19 and the McCleary decision. Aiken said in the last two years, the district has had to cut $2.2 million from the budget.

Worst-case scenario, the district could be looking at another $2 million cut from the budget in the 2020-21 school year. Although it is hard to estimate at this time, according to Aiken.

“We are hoping we can do a lot better than that and they (budget reductions) aren’t that significant,” he said.

Staffing reductions have already taken the form of positions not being filled when staff leaves. Instead, other staff would have their job requirements increased to fill the gap.

Aiken gave an example of a Morgan Middle School music teacher. Instead of refiling this position, the district hopes to “re-assign” other staff to fill the position. The music program will still be taught it “just may look differently.”

“If we lose a custodian we’re sitting and we’re huddling around how best to do this without having to make a new hire,” Aiken said. “We are discussing if that is even a possibility. That’s just the way we have been running.”

President of the ESD teacher’s union Donna Grassel said in an email to the Daily Record, “Some of these eliminated positions drastically affect programming and will have far reaching effects in the years to come.”

A draft budget is currently being worked on by Aiken, and he hopes to get it to school board members soon, so it can be discussed in an open study session. He said they intend to make adoption decisions in late July.

What is really hurting ESD in the McCleary decision was the addition that the district must pay health insurance to all staff, even if the staff doesn’t need it. Aiken said the district could save around $500,000 by not paying insurance for staff that doesn’t need it.

The district has asked state legislators to look into this problem, but best-case scenario, it still won’t affect the 2020-21 school year.

The budget reductions could also affect school programs such as summer school and field trips. These are only being considered at this time and are in no way final, the school board is simply looking at ways to even out the budget.

These programs could be closed anyway next fall due to COVID-19.

These budgeting problems are not unique to Ellensburg. Districts across the state are facing budgeting reductions because of COVID-19, and some are dealing with the McCleary reductions as well. (McCleary affected different districts in different ways, and Aiken said ESD was hit hard).

“We have some challenges there is no doubt about it, but we are not unlike any of the other 295 school districts and they are going through all the same struggles now, just as we are,” Aiken said.

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