The Bethel School Board decided Thursday night to slash 67 positions – including 45 teaching jobs – and increase class sizes as part of a $7.6 million budget cut.
Positions for at least six administrators and six custodians would be part of the cuts. Class sizes would increase by one student in the fourth to 12th grades next fall, while classes for kindergartners through third-graders would add two students.
The board directed Superintendent Tom Seigel to make cuts to offset a $7.6 million reduction in state funding.
“It’s bleak,” said school board President John Manning after a nearly four-hour meeting at the district’s headquarters in Spanaway. “There’s no silver lining in this.”
The five-member board agreed on cuts of $7.1 million. It also decided to cover the remainder of the reduction using $500,000 of $12 million in expected reserves.
Manning said the Bethel School District has great teachers and he is hopeful the quality of education won’t suffer. “I’m sure they’ll do their best to maintain it,” he said.
Board members said they were forced by the state’s cuts to increase class sizes to the level which the state will actually fund.
“We’re forced to that position,” said board member Ronald Morehouse.
“It’s horrible,” said Joy Cook, another board member.
The larger classes will provide the biggest savings – $3.2 million – and the biggest reduction – 40 teaching positions.
Seigel said reduction-in-force notices will be going to at least 45 teachers. However, he said he was hopeful up to 30 teaching positions could be handled by attrition, such as retirements.
The 17,600-student district has about 1,030 full-time-equivalent teachers.
The district will also save $510,360 by closing Clover Creek Elementary for a year starting in the fall and moving its students to Naches Trail Elementary while a new $19 million Clover Creek school is built.
The $7.6 million budget reduction amounts to a nearly 5 percent cut in the district’s $160 million general fund operating budget. The board must approve the cuts as part of a final budget.
Tom Cruver, president of the Bethel Education Association, said increases in class sizes – which result in the loss of teaching jobs – are subject to bargaining between the teacher’s union and the district.
“We’ll see how it shakes out,” said Cruver, looking ahead to the next school year. “It’s a long ways till August.”