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May 17, 2006
Police called to Wahluke board meeting after tensions mount
District cuts won't be as severe as projected
ROYAL CITY, Washington (STPNS) -- Despite the news that the Wahluke District was going to rely on attrition for budget reduction next year, police were called to settle an out-of-order school board meeting last week in Mattawa.
About two hundred people were at the meeting, which was abruptly adjourned after audience members who got up to comment stopped addressing the board and did not adhere to a five-minute protocol set up for comment by board members.
The meeting was held later in the evening Thursday because it had been scheduled to follow a superintendent candidate interview. The candidate’s interview was rescheduled for next week at the request of the candidate, who had a personal emergency and could not attend. He is scheduled to be interviewed this evening.
Rather than re-notify everyone about another time change, the board chose to keep the special meeting time of 8:45 p.m. last Thursday, to the chagrin of some staff and community members.
Associate Superintendent Rick Molitor prefaced the budget announcement with “We know this has caused a lot of stress both in and out of the district. It has affected both personal and professional relationships.” He said that after careful examination of the budget, reductions to certificated staff (teachers) were not required.
Molitor handed the audience a flow chart which compared the proposed budget cuts with the cuts that the district was recommending after consultation with the Educational Service District in Yakima as well as a retired superintendent the district has hired as a consultant.
The original figure for reductions was $1.1 million, but the final proposal was for $730,900 after finding more revenue, Molitor said.
The original projected figure for staffing cuts was at $880,000 but the final proposal had been reduced to $490,900, he said. Central Office costs will be reduced by $316,800, which will eliminate the positions of business manager, associate superintendent, elementary administrative assistant and a receptionist. The cuts include a 30% reduction for assessment coordinator, and business support will be reduced by 2 hours per day.
The remaining $174,100 for teaching & learning reductions include the elimination of para-professional support, extracurricular coaches, supplemental contract reduction of 48% and overtime reduced by 10%.
Molitor said these figures include cuts to long-term substitute teachers and teachers who are planning on resigning. The resigning teachers will not be replaced with new hires.
Under the non-employee related cuts (NERC’s) the district’s original projection was $222,000, but was increased to reductions in the amount of $240,000.
Central Office cuts will include reductions in equipment as well as purchasing services, business office, human resources and teaching and learning office in the amount of $180,000.
Buildings cuts are in the amount of $60,000, which includes building and athletic budgets, and Molitor said the district would not be cutting any transportation. Parents had discussed at a different meeting last Wednesday that they were especially nervous about the district cutting transportation in town due to increased gang activity on the streets in Mattawa.
During Molitor’s presentation, translation headphones were provided for dozens in the audience.
Martin Ramirez, vice president of the newly formed community group called “Grupo Mexicano” asked the board why they printed the handout in English only. He explained that since the majority of the district’s students are Hispanic, he believed the information should have been provided in Spanish also.
Molitor said the flow chart had just been completed prior to the meeting, and Ramirez asked that in the future could they have information translated in Spanish.
Community member Felix Ramirez began addressing the audience, saying that the crowd needed to demand answers as to why the district ended up in this situation. “Where is the money? Where did it go? We aren’t going to accept the statement; we’re just moving on.” He also said that he knew teachers were afraid to speak out for fear of their jobs, to which WHS teacher Jim Murdoch countered, “You can’t speak for us.”
Board president Katie Hirai said, “These are public meetings, this information has been presented in a public forum. If you would come to those meetings you would know what is happening.”
The board asked Ramirez to address the board, but he continued to speak to the audience. School board member Kip Calaway told Ramirez, “This is not the forum to present your own agenda.”
Hirai tried to defuse the situation by saying the budget cuts had been a contentious process for everyone. “I have a personal interest here also. This involves my family, my friends. I give this district my most valuable possession--my own kids. We are just as concerned about this as you are.”
When Ramirez, who was not pausing to allow the translator to catch up, was told audience member comments were limited to five minutes, other people lined up to speak behind him and the meeting rapidly fell out of order.
Hirai slammed her gavel down and asked for a motion to approve the proposed cuts. The motion was approved and the meeting adjourned.
Several members of the board left immediately after the announcement the meeting was adjourned. Hirai, Mahre, and board member Marcos Gonzales tried to talk with agitated members of the audience. While most audience members remained in their seats in confusion, some were upset that the meeting had been stopped and approached the board table.
Discussions were intense before police arrived. A Mattawa officer stood by for about an hour until people left the meeting.
The school board expects to have another meeting next Wednesday, May 17. The district will be hosting the third and final superintendent candidate, Mike Corley, from the Clatskanie, OR School District. The schedule for that day will be the same as the other candidate days; there will be an all staff meeting at 3:30 in the Intermediate School Library and a Community public meeting at 7:30 in the Intermediate School Library.
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