Hundreds of public school jobs hinge on kids returning to class

Parents across the state are gearing up for round 2 of distance learning as school starts in a just a matter of days.

It’s been a drastic change for teachers, parents and kids.

But because most children will not be meeting in person on campus, several school districts in the region are warning hundreds of employees may need wait on standby and their jobs could be in jeopardy.

Between just two school districts in Silverdale and Port Orchard, more than 350 employees are being told their services may not be needed should kids remain learning from a distance.

But many of those employees performed essential services like delivering laptops and meals for needy kids during the spring. Some worry the same kids depending on the help will be left out.

“Do I remember how to start my school bus?” asked driver Tina McDougal-Rush, who has been driving a school bus for special needs students off and on since 2006.

She works for the South Kitsap School District and says officials told her she may not have a job should distance learning moves beyond the end of October.

The district says it will pay its portion of drivers’ medical benefits through that time frame but beyond remains uncertain.

“I’m thankful my paycheck is not our sole income,” she said. “I feel for my coworkers. This is hard.”

The Central Kitsap School District announced this week dozens of jobs would be placed on hold while students learn from home. That includes 83 jobs in transportation, 31 in food services plus athletic directors and others. Plus, open positions also won’t be filled as the shift in instruction from classroom to home decreased their necessity, says the district.

In all, 118 employees at Central Kitsap are being told to wait on standby, and 235 at South Kitsap were told the same.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Janie White, VP of the Washington Education Association.

White worries potential job cuts are the last thing districts should consider during this crisis.

This past spring, state officials waived a requirement that funded transportation programs based on the number of kids being shuttled to and from school. In many communities bus drivers delivered technology, lesson materials even meals to needy kids.

But this fall, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction told districts who want to resume those efforts may need to reimburse the state should lawmakers not address how transportation budgets are funded.

White says the WEA is working with the state officials on a solution, but she worries students may be left out of essentials during a pandemic.

“We just hope our districts don’t leap and get rid of everyone while we’re going through the process,” said White.

The CKSD school board meets Wednesday to discuss the budget. The district expects more cuts surpassing $2 million may be required.