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In first layoffs, Tacoma Schools eliminates 19 administrative positions

Tacoma Schools eliminates 19 positions due to budget deficit

In the aftermath of a teacher strike, Tacoma Public Schools has started the first phase of budget cuts, already eliminating 19 positions.
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In the aftermath of a teacher strike, Tacoma Public Schools has started the first phase of budget cuts, already eliminating 19 positions.

When Tacoma Schools leaders reached an agreement with teachers to end a week-long strike last month, they warned that big budget cuts likely would follow.

The first phase of those cuts — amounting to $10 million — has arrived.

To accomplish them, the district has eliminated 19 administrative positions. Five of the employees whose positions were dropped will fill vacancies elsewhere in the district, while eight were transferred to non-administrative jobs.

Another seven positions will be eliminated in the first round of cuts, with more — officials say they aren’t sure how many — to follow throughout the school year.

“I don’t want the public to think that we’re going to cut this money and everything’s going to be the same. It’s not,” Superintendent Carla Santorno said Thursday at a meeting of the Tacoma School Board where the cuts were discussed. “We’re going to lose things that are important to people that they didn’t want to see go and they’re really going to be upset about it.”

In laying off employees, school district leaders say they’re taking aim at areas as far from the classroom as possible, with the decisions having nothing to do with concerns about top-heavy administrative staffing and the district’s No. 1 ranking in the state in that category.

“I don’t think what we’re doing is in response to that,” School Board President Andrea Cobb said. “What we’re doing is (taking) immediate steps and actions to having a balanced budget moving forward.”

The district faces a budget deficit of $23.4 million after the teachers strike in September over competitive wages. The walkout, which delayed school seven days, ended with teachers securing a 14 percent raise and a one-year contract.

Tacoma Education Association representative Angel Morton said the layoffs at the administrative level is the right place to start.

“I agree with that wholeheartedly,” she said. “... Certainly it’s not anything to celebrate when people’s jobs get eliminated, but it’s my impression ... that (district officials) are being very thoughtful with how they go about it.”

If needed, a second phase of layoffs would be union-represented positions at the administrative level, according to a district report released Thursday. After that, the district would look at support services and school programs that can be cut.

The last phase — and the last resort, district officials say — would be school-based staff members. None of those positions will be cut this school year, because those employees are under contract.

No teachers will lose their jobs in any of the rounds of layoffs, officials said.

More cuts will follow in the 2019-20 school year and could include school-based staff members, officials said.

The School Board discussed the reductions for the first time in public at Thursday’s study session.

Board members said they appreciated the hard work from staff, but wanted more direction as far as what positions and programs the district can and cannot live without.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do and I feel very confident that we’ll get there and we’ll do the right thing,” School Board member Karen Vialle said.

The positions eliminated in the first phase of cuts cuts were:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator.

Assistant director of the English Language Learner program.

Two assistant directors of Student Services.

Coordinator of Community Partnerships.

Coordinator of Comprehensive Guidance.

Deputy general counsel.

Director of Information Security.

IT customer service specialist.

Payroll manager.

Professional development records specialist

Project manager in the Project Management Office (PMO).

Purchasing specialist.

SharePoint developer

Student teacher and university liaison.

Sustainability manager

Public information assistant.

Assistant superintendent of student support.

Executive director of Sound Partnership.

The employees in those positions have been notified.

“Anything we can do to make their transition easier, we want to be kind and helpful,” said Dan Voelpel, the district’s communications director. “We need to honor the work they’ve done for us in a really difficult time.”

Added Cobb: “We’re committed to doing this in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison