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Washington school districts preparing for layoffs, higher class sizes

Some Washington school districts said they are facing budget deficits due to a change in the way the state funds education.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Laura Hendrix fears she won’t be teaching kindergarten at Centennial Elementary in Olympia this fall unless legislators change state law.

Hendrix was informed she will be laid off this September unless state lawmakers remove a limit on how much districts can raise through levies.

“It’s terrifying,” the first-year teacher said.

In the 2012 McCleary Decision, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled school districts had become too reliant on levies due to a lack of state funding. As part of the funding fix, the Legislature put a cap on local levies that districts can collect. Districts can now collect the lesser of two amounts: $2,500 per student or $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Districts in higher cost of living communities received additional funding, but the Olympia School District did not get that funding.

RELATED: Seattle teachers protest $39.7 million in cuts to librarians, administrators

Olympia Superintendent Patrick Murphy said without that funding along with a levy cap, the district faces an $8.5 million deficit for the 2019-2020 school year.

Unless the district is allowed to raise levies above the current limit, Murphy said the district is preparing to eliminate 29 teaching positions to help make up for the shortfall.

Murphy said along with eliminating teaching positions, classroom sizes would increase, and other programs might face cuts to make up for the shortfall.

“There was a McCleary fix, and now we need a fix to the McCleary fix,” said Murphy.

Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) also faces a similar issue, a $30 million reduction in funding.

“We’re facing a devastating reduction without any help from the legislature,” said district spokesperson Dan Voelpel. “What we’re really advocating people do is contact their legislators and let them know we want that local levy funding restored.”

Voelpel couldn’t specify how many staff might lose their jobs but said the district is studying the issue. He said this is the most significant budget issue the district has faced.

“We’re not alone in this, and we’re hoping the legislature realizes this is a statewide issue, and that they come through for all of us,” he said.

RELATED: Tacoma Public Schools seeks input on $30 million in cuts

Tacoma Education Association (TEA) President Angel Morton said they’re also lobbying for a solution.

“It’s a shame to waste our time fighting to get what our kids need instead of just being able to take those resources and provide for our kids,” Morton said.

Both TEA and TPS said the funding shortfall is not related to contract negations that led to teacher raises late in 2018. TPS already resolved that budget issue by eliminating 43 administrative positions.