Puyallup Herald

Puyallup schools to eliminate positions, increase class sizes to deal with labor costs

A strike by teachers in the Puyallup School District last year delayed the start of school there by three days. District officials now are wrestling with labor costs.
A strike by teachers in the Puyallup School District last year delayed the start of school there by three days. District officials now are wrestling with labor costs. phaley@thenewstribune.com

To continue providing teachers with the increased wages they fought for in September, the Puyallup School District will be making reductions to its workforce for the 2019-20 school year.

District officials say there’s not enough room in the budget to keep up with increased labor costs of its current staff.

As a result, class sizes are expected to increase in Puyallup schools next year with fewer staff in the classroom.

District Communications Director Brian Fox said it’s not clear how many positions will be affected. Staff will be notified by May 15, as required by state law, if they face being laid off.

Officials hope retirements and non-renewed contracted positions will prevent staff cuts.

“We are hopeful attrition and a careful review of open positions will help us make these reductions,” Fox said in an email. “Schools will see a reduction in allocated staffing and, as a result, it is likely class sizes will increase.”

In September, the Puyallup Education Association led a three-day strike to fight for increased wages for teachers.

More than 1000 Puyallup teachers and supporters march outside the Puyallup School District office and rally in Pioneer Park on Sept. 7, 2018. Teachers were on strike over contract negotiations with the district.

The agreed-upon contract offered a salary increase north of 10 percent. First-year teacher salaries jumped from $47,062 to $52,020. Salaries for teachers with 16 years experience and a master’s degree or doctorate increased from $92,677 to $102,094.

To cover the cost, the district used $5 million out of its fund balance, which cannot be replenished.

To keep up with the increased wages in future years, reductions are necessary, said Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans.

Yeomans warned in September that the “negotiations expanded beyond what is immediately sustainable” and that action would have to be taken in the future to offset costs.

Union leader Karen McNamara did not immediately respond to request for comment for this story.

Staffing reductions are rare, Fox said. The last known workforce reduction was in 2009.

“Our operating budget for the 2019-2020 school year will be completed after legislators complete their work,” Fox said. “Until that time, any projections of reductions are guesses. We expect to provide formal communications regarding more accurate projections in the next few weeks.”

Puyallup is not alone when it comes to reducing staff due to budget struggles. Tacoma Public Schools is facing a $30 million deficit in the 2019-20 school year and anticipate more staffing cuts.

Allison Needles covers news in Puyallup, Sumner and Bonney Lake for The Puyallup Herald and education news for The News Tribune in Tacoma. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.


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