Blaine school board approves $2.5 million staff cuts


In a brief and tense April 29 special meeting of the Blaine school board at the district boardroom, the board unanimously approved its original plan of a $2.5 million budget reduction for the 2024-25 school year.

The reduction will cut roughly 30 staff positions in the district, with 11 percent of administration, 12 percent of classified staff, and 11 percent of the teaching staff laid off.

Some of the positions impacted by the budget cuts include a K-5 principal, multiple special education staff, 6-12th grade library tech support (the school district is without a full-time librarian) and multiple other administrative, certificated and classified staff positions.

The board was originally slated to vote on the reduced education program at the regular April 22 meeting, but decided to delay the vote by a week to gather more information and hear alternative proposals from Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the classified staff union.

The local SEIU chapter proposed eliminating five administrative positions (the maintenance and operations director, and four building/assistant principals) from the 2024-25 budget, reducing salaries for various other administrative positions, and reducing the number of contracted days for classified staff from 260 to 220 days to save the district nearly $1.9 million.

In a letter addressed to the board, SEIU argued that this year’s proposed staffing cuts, combined with the over 50 positions cut in last year’s budget cuts, make for an unsustainable work environment for the remaining classified staff.

“The overwhelming challenge for the staff who remain after a staffing reduction is the workload to support students and staff remains largely unchanged,” the letter read. “Unfortunately, the proposed staffing reductions directly impact the school support staff and when considering the previous staffing reductions, is not sustainable to the workload and services our members provide to support our students and staff.”

Various board members said they appreciated the time and energy put in by SEIU on the proposal, and superintendent Christopher Granger said the district will take into consideration some of its proposals, such as consolidating certain administrative roles and responsibilities. But all five board members, including Ben Lazarus who voted via phone, voted to ratify the original reduced education program.

“This is not the ideal for anyone, but I don’t believe that the plan presented [by SEIU] would allow us to meet the needs of the district right now,” Granger said. “As hard as all of this is, I would stick by the resolution and the plan that was presented last Monday [April 22] as the best of the bad options at this time.”

District 4 board member Ryan Swinburnson said he was encouraged by the response from the community, and urged the public to turn its attention toward the state legislature to provide more funding to public schools.

“I got the belief that it’s not an, ‘us versus them’ mentality right now,” Swinburnson said. “I’m hopeful that everybody that reached out to the board can continue to reach out to the legislators at the state and push them to properly fund our school district so we’re not in this situation every again.”

Another $500,000 will be cut from non-staff expenditures for next year’s budget, and the superintendent will be able to adjust the final budget before board approval in the summer.

Planned salary increases for teachers, losing pandemic-era American Rescue Plan Act funding, lowering enrollment, and the 2018 McCleary decision that impacts how much local levy dollars the district can collect, have all impacted the district’s bottom line, leading to consecutive years of budget cuts and staff layoffs.

The board will meet again for its next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 28, and will release a notice in June or July regarding the completion of a draft budget for the 2024-25 school year. 


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