Vancouver school districts cut staff amid $54M deficit


Facing multi-million dollar budget deficits, Vancouver’s two school districts are on track to eliminate 402 positions. The deficits are caused by lower enrollment, dried up COVID relief funding, and inadequacies in how the state funds schools. 

Union leaders from both districts acknowledge the financial bind the districts are in but disagree with some of the choices administrators made, and wish there had been more union involvement in deciding where to make the cuts. Vancouver Public Schools serves about 22,000 students in the western half of Vancouver, and Evergreen Public Schools serves an equal number on the eastern half. 

Anticipating a $35 million budget deficit next school year, the board of Vancouver Public Schools adopted a plan March 12 to cut about 262 full-time positions. More than 130 of those jobs are represented by the teachers union, Vancouver Education Association. Another 33 are represented by SEIU Local 925, and at least 21 are members of the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals. 

Meanwhile the board of Evergreen Public Schools, facing a $19 million budget shortfall, approved a plan March 26 to eliminate 140 full-time positions, including about 88 that are represented by the Evergreen Education Association and at least 20 represented by Public School Employees of Evergreen (SEIU Local 1948). 

Inadequate funding

In Washington, schools receive state funding based on a complicated formula using enrollment and the “prototypical school,” or a matrix of how many staff an average school needs to operate. Broadly, the state plugs in the total number of students enrolled in the district to the prototypical school matrix to calculate the number of full-time equivalent staff needed, then multiplies those numbers by the statewide average salary for the positions.

The problem with that funding formula is that most districts hire more staff with higher wages to actually run their schools. For example, Vancouver Public Schools employs about 28 more teachers than the prototypical model calls for, and pays about $22.8 million more for teacher salaries and benefits than it receives from the state. 

At the same time, enrollment has not bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, and districts are no longer receiving federal COVID relief funding. 

“I recognize it’s not just an evil district administrative budget issue,” said Vancouver Education Association President Jamie Anderson. “At the end of the day, we all have the best interests of students at heart, but we also have to have the support at the state level.” 

School board members and superintendents in both districts called the cuts a heartbreaking decision that will increase class sizes, reduce special programs, and negatively affect students.  

“This is not a situation I think any of us want to be in,” said Vancouver Public Schools board member Tracie Barrows. Barrows works as a school psychologist in the neighboring district and is a member of Evergreen Education Association. “I work in a building every day. I see the increased student needs. I know the resources continue to be tighter. There are no words … to alleviate the worry or concern or impact.”

Little room for input

Although Anderson understands the difficult spot the district is in, she said she was still disappointed that after more than an hour of public comment by school staff and parents, the board passed the budget cut proposal without discussing if it should change. 

“There wasn’t a lot of room for acting on community input,” Anderson said. “The district made their recommendations, and the board adopted it.” 

In Evergreen, teachers union member Lynda Davis said she’s concerned that the school board effectively eliminated all teacher librarians in the district. An academic interventionist, Davis works with groups of three to five elementary school students who have trouble reading. 

“If we talk about the foundation of what public school is all about, it is to create a literate society, and we axed librarians across the whole district. I can’t condone that ever,” Davis said. “If we had known that librarians were going to be cut, I feel like we could have come together and said, ‘We’ll do a furlough,’ just to save librarians.”

Workers whose positions were cut received layoff notices in March. But laid off workers could be called back if a position opens up when someone else retires or resigns, and some union contracts provide “bumping rights,” the opportunity for workers with more years of service to move into positions held by less-senior employees.


  1. Why would you ever use a “complicated formula” that is highly inaccurate if you end up with a -22 million inaccuracy!!?? Whoever decides on the formula for this predication should be fired.


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