$4.5M on way to South Kitsap schools but may not be enough to save teaching jobs

PORT ORCHARD -- Plagued by a budget shortfall, the South Kitsap School District cut 10 percent of its teaching force earlier this year.

The district recently learned they will be receiving $4.5 million from the state -- money that many are now hoping will restore the jobs.

In May, the district said the only way to save the teaching jobs was if lawmakers in Olympia passed an additional $1 billion for education.

The Legislature did just that -- and South Kitsap’s piece of the pie is $ 4.5 million. But as of Thursday night, there were no promises of using any of that money to save jobs.

Sixty-eight full-time positions, including 61 teaching positions, were slashed in the district. Bev Cheney, the former interim superintendent, said earlier that the eliminated jobs could be restored if lawmakers gave them more money.

“They are not giving us $4.5 million and telling us, 'Do what you like with that.' They have specific purposes in mind,” said Michelle Reid,  South Kitsap School District’s new superintendent.

Reid said the district does have some discretion in use of the money, but, with 125 fewer students enrolling this year compared to last year, Reid said they have to do the math.

“Our enrollment has been declining; we have fewer students, we need fewer teachers,” said Reid.

“To me, it’s a letdown; they are not going through with what they said,” said Gabrielle Wagner.

Wagner spent much of the summer leading South Kitsap High School students in their protest against the teaching cuts.  She and others went as far as lobbying lawmakers, knowing it was their only hope.

“Now that we got the word out to Olympia and we got the money, I don’t see why there is not something there to fix it,” said Wagner.

“What we don’t want to do is behave simply emotionally,” said Reid.

The school board will have the final say and the issue will be discussed at next Wednesday’s school board meeting.

“We have a few more weeks to be thoughtful and we are going to bring more data back to the board next week on class sizes,” said Reid.

The president of the teacher’s union, Judy Arbogast, says they will be paying close attention to the same data. Despite decreased enrollment, the union says, many classes are still too large.

“Education is not education anymore, it’s all about the money,” said Wagner.

Wagner has since graduated from South Kitsap High, one of the largest schools in Washington.

The high school lost 17 teaching positions. Although the cuts remain for now, the superintendent says it could change since it all depends on what they find out about class sizes. They are researching the numbers and will have a better idea of how to move forward in several weeks.