Tag Archives: South Kitsap School District

Bremerton: A footnote on superintendent appointment

I’ve brought this up before in relation to superintendent searches in South Kitsap. Here it comes again, sparked by the recent appointment of Aaron Leavell as Bremerton School District’s new superintendent.

In 2008, the South Kitsap school board appointed then-assistant Superintendent Dave LaRose to succeed then-outgoing Superintendent Bev Cheney. Both LaRose and Leavell were well known to district constituents and well-liked by most. Leavell, like LaRose, has been the district’s assistant superintendent.

But the SKSD board got some serious blowback for presuming that LaRose’s appointment would be universally welcomed. The board announced its intention to hire LaRose to lead the district and held forums so district residents could comment before making it official. Then-board president Patty Henderson said the board had heard LaRose was applying for the Bremerton superintendent position (vacated by Bette Hyde and eventually filled by Flip Herndon), and SKSD didn’t want to lose LaRose to another district.

The tide of comments at the 2008 SKSD superintendent forums indicated a public slighted by the process. The overwhelming majority praised LaRose but said other candidates should have been considered, even if the intention was to hire from within.

Comments like this from then-former school board member Chris Lemke were common. (Lemke is now on the board again, but was elected after LaRose was appointed.)

“He’s a wonderful man,” Lemke said. “What I disagree with, there are other candidates. Give them the chance to speak, and give people the opportunity to speak about them.”

In contrast, the Bremerton school board was careful not to overtly express its intentions, although several comments by board members hinted at the direction they were heading.

The BSD board held a community forum Aug. 30, inviting city residents to talk about the district’s needs and the search process in general. The overwhelming majority at that meeting clamored for the board to appoint Leavell.

At the next meeting, the BSD board took their suggestion and welcomed Leavell with open arms.

While none of the Bremerton board members mentioned LaRose’s appointment, it seemed to be hovering in the back of their minds.

In comments made before the motion to appoint Leavell, board member Dave Rubio Rubie said he has taken note of “other districts” who have hired from within.

“They key point is they didn’t get feedback from all stakeholders,” Rubio Rubie said. “I really wanted to make sure we were following the process correctly and that we were listening to all sides and all positions.”

To conclude this footnote, I think it’s fair to say that the controversy surrounding LaRose’s appointment didn’t substantially affect his tenure.

Here’s Patty Henderson explaining the SKSD board’s thinking before it formalized appointment of LaRose. He is now in California, replaced this summer by Michelle Reid.

South Kitsap: Teachers strike, here’s what could have happened

South Kitsap schools appear to have dodged a bullet. Sorry kids, probably no extended summer vacation for you.

The South Kitsap School District and its teachers’ union, which earlier this week agreed to strike over class sizes if needs be, reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract late Friday.

Today, as I sat in the district office, summoned for a 1:15 p.m. press conference with SK Superintendent Michelle Reid, I thought things could have gone either way. So I researched what might have happened if the district and the South Kitsap Education Association had not reached an agreement, given the teachers’ union vote to strike earlier this week if a contract were not approved.

Districts can seek a court order forcing teachers back to work, as happened in the 2011 Tacoma teachers’ strike, I found.

A 2006 opinion issued by then-Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said state and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike.

State statutes establish no specific penalties against striking teachers; that’s up to the judge. Teachers, as in the Tacoma strike, have defied court orders.

During a 2009 Kent strike, teachers faced the threat of a $200 per day court imposed fine, but a resolution was reached before penalties were imposed.

Since 1972, court injunctions have been granted in 28 of 34 cases in which they were sought to end strikes, according to an analysis of data from the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission by the Freedom Foundation. In one case, union officials were jailed.

The Freedom Foundation is a conservative think tank promoting government accountability.

In Kitsap County, there have been six strikes or near strikes over the years, two involving court injunctions. South Kitsap was involved in one near strike in 1975.

In 1974, Central Kitsap teachers had planned a one-day walkout before the contract was resolved. In 1975 in South Kitsap, there was a lockout of teachers by the district administration, delaying the start of school that year by three days.

In 1977, Bainbridge Island School District was one of eight districts statewide with impending strikes. Bainbridge teachers defied a court injunction during the four-day strike.

In 1978, Central Kitsap School District administrators hired replacement teachers, and school continued during a five-day strike, with no injunction.

North Kitsap teachers were on strike for five days in 1986; there was no court action.

The longest strike in Kitsap’s history was in 1994 in Bremerton School District. The district sought an injunction, which teachers voted to defy. An agreement was reached, however, before a court order was approved.

South Kitsap teachers had support from students, who posted their thoughts via Twitter, at #wearenotsardines.

By 7 p.m., I was starting to feel like I was on Pope-watch. Would it be gray smoke or white? The mood of people on both sides of the bargaining table was hard to read, poker faces all. But as the day wore on, I thought, “If they were really at an impasse, they all would have gone home.”

And sure enough, shortly after 7 p.m., a joyful burst of applause erupted from one of the district office conference rooms, where bargaining had been going on, hot and heavy, since 8 a.m.

The SKEA membership has yet to ratify the contract, but union President John Richardson expressed satisfaction in the agreement reached with concession on both sides.

(If you want the details of what those concessions are, you can read my story on the Kitsap Sun’s website.)

“We are happy to finally have a tentative agreement that makes real progress toward smaller class sizes,” Richardson said. “We thank the community for their support and look forward to our meeting on Tuesday.”

South Kitsap: Is your child’s class on the “watch list?”

With the start of school less than two weeks away, administrators are keeping a close eye on class sizes and making adjustments to balance out the number of children in classrooms at each grade level.

A class size “watch list” was the hot topic of discussion at last night’s school board meeting. The list, below and also available on South Kitsap School District’s website, shows grade levels and sections at each school that are overcrowded by standards of the local teachers’ union, the South Kitsap Educations Association. Some math and science classes at the high school show up to 40 students per section. Other areas of particular concern are East Port Orchard Elementary, where more than half the classes are near or at maximum capacity, and John Sedgwick Junior High, where most science and math classes are near, at or above the max. Take a look at the list to see where your child’s school and grade level stands.

The watch list is in flux, as administrators try to balance class sizes, but South Kitsap is up against challenging budget constraints, entering the new school year with the largest reduction in force in recent memory.

Sixty-one teaching positions were slated for elimination in May. The district got some enhanced funding from the state and made other adjustments, enabling some positions to be restored. (And the original RIF counted four positions twice.) The RIF now stands at 39.5 FTE teachers, according to finance director Sandy Rotella (although the budget document reviewed at last night’s meeting says 42.8 positions). Certificated staffing (teachers) will drop from 617 last year to 575 this school year, for a projected enrollment of 9,086 students, according to the posted budget. So some increase in class sizes is inevitable, especially at the secondary level, where classes have previously been staffed more generously than the teachers’ contract calls for.

The teachers’ union is in the midst of tense negotiations. Members are supposed to vote on a contract on Monday. But class sizes have become a sticking point. At last night’s meeting Superintendent Michelle Reid outlined the district’s dilemma when it comes to balancing class sizes and teachers’ pay. Eighty-five percent of the district’s budget is for personnel, said Reid, so one way or another the number of people times the amount they are paid must equal 85 percent of revenues. The district and the union must strike a balance between more teachers and higher pay, Reid said.

There is some funding that may be allocated for additional positions, but the district is proceeding cautiously, she mentioned.

Another aspect of the contract that bears directly on students is language governing class sizes. The current contract lists “preferred” and “maximum” average class sizes at each grade level. Here it is, with preferred and max listed in that order (I’ve only listed academic classes; PE allows more per section at each level, which is detailed on the watch list.)
K-3rd: 1:24; 1:25
4th: 1:28; 1:29
5th-6th: 1:30; 1:31

“Split” classes that combine two or more elementary grade levels
1-3: 1:22; 1:24
4-5: 1:25; 1:27
5-6: 1:28; 1:30

7-9: 1:33; 1:35
10-12: 1:35; 1:37

Teachers receive monetary compensation for each class with students over the maximum, but without exception, all would prefer to skip the bonus, said John Richardson, union president.

According to union spokeswoman Judy Arbogast, teachers expect up to 3 additional students per class in many classes at the junior high and secondary levels. While one or two students here and there may not sound like much, one secondary teacher, commenting on blog post by the superintendent put it this way:

In the past few years, my class sizes have risen from about 28 to about 35 students per class. With average class sizes of 35, I cannot meet the needs of every student, no matter how hard I try. I want to give individualized feedback on student work, but struggle when there are just too many essays to grade or projects to evaluate.

The challenges of more students in each class and a higher workload outside the school day are some of what is driving good, competent teachers out of the profession. I know of several colleagues who have left SK in the past years (many of their positions have NOT been filled) and our department and school are poorer without them.

Karen Little a counselor at John Sedgwick Junior High School, said the concept of average class sizes is misleading, because some like special education are as low as 12, pushing the allowed average maximum up well above 30 students. Tasked with assigning students to classes, Little is struggling.

“I feel like I’m playing chess and somebody’s given me a quarter of a board, and I can’t move anything” Little said.

Teachers also are concerned about increased class sizes in split classrooms. New learning standards and high stakes tests require focused instruction, making it hard for teachers to devote adequate time to students at each grade level. “It’s impossible for me to teach the entire curriculum in half the time,” said Kim Waterman, who teaches a 5-6 split. “It’s impossible to do a really good job by those kids. And that bothers me.”

Chris Lemke noted that the number of students in elementary schools varies. Some schools are crowded; others are below capacity. Lemke said the board recently began talking about ways to even out the distribution, either by moving students to a different school or re-drawing district boundaries. If any of that happens, Lemke said, it won’t happen quickly.

Reporter Steve Gardner is working on a story about how students are assigned to classes. It’s set to run Tuesday.

Class Size Watch List

SOUTH KITSAP: Back-to-school celebration

Recent rain reminds us that summer is winding down and the start of school is near.

Screen shot 2013-08-16 at 8.50.51 AM

South Kitsap School District will host its annual Back-to-School Celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow (Aug. 17) at the South Kitsap High School track. Free, free, free, school supplies (one package per student) bus rides, refreshments, art projects and games. You can even get a haircut. Visit booths hosted by schools and community organizations and enjoy performances by local musicians. All students should be accompanied by an adult.

Student protest discouraged by SKSD administrators

Some students at South Kitsap High School had planned a walk-out protest of the district’s plans to eliminate 68 positions, including 61 teachers’ jobs, Principal Jerry Holsten said Monday.

Holsten’s comments confirmed some chatter the Kitsap Sun heard via its Facebook page earlier in the day.

“Yes, we heard about something this morning,” Holsten said. “We addressed it with staff and with some students, and there was no activity.”

Morale at the high school (and throughout the district) is low, given the school board’s decision last week to make plans for its most sweeping layoffs in recent memory. The students had apparently planned a sympathy strike by walking out on classes.

“We respect and admire our students’ opinions and values, and their interest in having a voice,” Holsten said. “We simply encourage them to present their voice in a different fashion that’s less disruptive to their schools.”

Although the state Legislature plans to pump additional funding into the K-12 education system, the budget is far from finalized. Whether or not some or all of the jobs will be saved is a big unknown.

The board is required by law to notify teachers who will be RIF’d, giving them adequate time to seek other jobs before the next school year. The board on May 8 elected to stick with the regular May 15 deadline (that’s Wednesday), instead of going with an extension to June 15, approved by the Legislature at the end of the regular session. One board member said it was a courtesy to teachers possibly facing layoffs, since June 15 would give them little planning time.

A total of 25 staff members have said they will retire or resign at the end of this year, so the number of proposed layoffs is 43.

The RIF list includes 3.3 administrative FTEs: 1.3 at the district office, an assistant principal at the high school and one elementary school assistant principal.
Also slated for elimination are:
25.5 elementary level teaching positions
22.9 secondary teaching positions
3.0 special educational teachers
8.5 career and technical education teachers
An instructional specialist, part of a school nurse position and 4.088 classified or non-teaching support positions make up the rest of cuts.

To add to the stress, documentation is due this week on the state’s new method of evaluating teachers and principals, called TPEP, for Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project.

“This is tough time for everybody, staff, students, administrators, parents,” Holsten said. “It’s a stressful time when we have to talk about staff reductions. It’s a somber mood, however our staff are great professionals, and they’re making sure it doesn’t affect our students’ education.”

Sharing a copy of email to SKSD staff

South Kitsap School District employees were notified on April 12 of impending layoffs in the district. The Kitsap Sun covered last night’s Q&A with the school board about the district’s budget situation. These are preliminary “worst case” numbers. Retirements, which you will see the district is looking to identify, will help reduce the number of layoffs. Regardless, this is likely to be the biggest RIF for South Kitsap in recent memory.

Here is a (below) is a copy of the letter Interim Superintendent Bev Cheney sent to employees.

Chris Henry, reporter

Begin Cheney letter:
April 12, 2013


TO: All District Staff

FR: Bev Cheney, Interim Superintendent

RE: 2012-13 and 2013-14 Budget Situation

As you may be aware, the District is currently facing some financial challenges including:
· Decreasing enrollment over the past 10+ years
· The ending fund balance for 2011-12 coming in below projection ($634,000 impact)
· The enrollment shortfall for 2012-13 of 80-100 students ($435,000 – $511,600 impact)
· Projected enrollment decline of 2.5% for most schools for 2013-14
· The exhaustion of local funds we have used to build the “rafts” to sustain programs and positions previously funded by state funds in order to continue to provide high levels of hope and learning for every student.
· Impact of sequestration on federal funds and the local economy
· Increased cost of the provision of special education services beyond what the state funds
· Higher than anticipated fuel and utility costs
· The need to restore the Board’s reserve back to 3% by August 2014 (approx. $436,000)
· The negotiation of five contracts this year

The Board has approved the reduction of its reserve from 3% to 2.5% in order to cover the real and projected expenditures for this year. Because of the ending fund balance for 2011-12 coming in below projection and the enrollment shortfall for 2012-13, we cannot guarantee that even with the reduction of the Board’s reserve to 2.5% that we will be able to cover all of our expenditures and provide 100% building carryover into the 2013-14 school year.

Our budget situation is serious. While we knew that we would be reducing staff due to declining enrollment for 2013-14, we also can no longer continue to fund those positions previously supported by state funds with local funds that have enabled us to achieve great gains in student achievement over these past few years. We have exhausted our ability to create the financial rafts that we have created in the past to support those programs and positions no longer funded by the state and that many districts have already reduced or eliminated. Without these financial rafts, we are now in the situation that other districts faced four years ago.

Consequently, due to the budget issues (between $1.6 and $2.5 million and possibly more depending on the outcome of negotiations and sequestration), we will be staffing classroom positions at all elementary and secondary schools at the preferred level. We will also be eliminating 26.5 FTE previously state funded certificated positions that we have been locally funding. In addition, there will be reductions based on enrollment decline.

However, you must also know that staffing at the preferred level and eliminating the previously state funded 26.5 certificated positions will not meet our goal of reducing our budget by $2.5+ million. Consequently, we will also be reducing classified staff in addition to the classified reductions resulting from enrollment decline.

Your new superintendent, Michelle Reid, upon learning of the budget challenges facing the district, revised the District Office organizational structure in order to realize some budget savings. She has chosen not to fill two administrative (Director of School and Family Support and The Director of Special Programs) and one classified position (Executive Assistant for School and Family Support) at the district office. These positions were vacated due to retirements and a person returning to a previous position.

These reductions in staff still do not solve our budget problem. Consequently, a Leadership Budget Team has been working to identify recommendations for additional reductions to our budget. The work of this group is critical. Unfortunately, we have already used all of the non-personnel options, and so the Leadership Budget Team had to look at positions as they developed their recommendations for addressing the $1.6 to $2.5+ million dollar gap. They have completed their work, and now with input from cabinet I will finalize my recommendations to the Board for $2.5+ million in cuts in order to have a balanced budget for 2013-14.

Since we have exhausted non-personnel options, we will be instituting a Reduction in Force (RIF) this year. In addition to reductions in certificated and classified positions caused by declining enrollment, the positions eliminated in the revised District Office organizational structure, and the reduction of the 26.5 certificated FTE previously mentioned, I will be identifying other certificated and classified positions that may need to be reduced. Consequently, I strongly encourage those who are planning to retire or resign this year to submit their letters/forms to HR by no later than April 30, 2013.

I feel bad being the bearer of this news. It is unfortunate that we can no longer support the great programs that state and federal funds enabled us to implement on behalf of student achievement. I wish I had better news as we have great things happening in this district.

While I tried to include as much information in this email as possible to explain our current budget situation, I know that you may still have many questions. Consequently, I want to invite you to attend a Board Work Study session on the topic of our budget at 6:00pm on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in the theater at the high school. The Board and I will present information on the budget and then answer questions.


Bev Cheney

On Saturday, South Kitsap gets ready to go back to school

Here’s a press release from the South Kitsap School District about its annual back-to-school event, which seems to get bigge each year.

South Kitsap School District starts off each year with a FREE Back-to-School Celebration

On Saturday, August 20, from 11:00 a.m. – 2 p.m. the South Kitsap School District will hold its seventh annual Back-to-School Celebration for all SKSD students and their families at the South Kitsap High School Track.

Entertainment, music, games, and fun await you and your family at this event. Booths from organizations, businesses, and schools will line the South Kitsap High School track with kid-centered displays, demonstrations, and activities. There will also be hands-on games, art projects, and school bus rides. The day will culminate in a kids’ parade lead by the South Kitsap Community Band. All activities and performances are free. All students should be accompanied by an adult.

In addition free family health services will be available such as vision, hearing and dental screenings.

Harlem Wizards tonight at South Kitsap High School

The South Kitsap School District will host the Harlem Wizards at 6:30 p.m. tonight at South Kitsap High School, 425 Mitchell Ave., Port Orchard, WA 98366. Tickets are $12 at the door. Proceeds benefit the district.

Here’s the press release from the SK Parent Teacher Student District Council, which organized the event.

Tuesday, May 10 to perform an outstanding show on the court and to take on SKSD’s Key-sters team including, teachers, and principals. See who’s on the SK team!

The game starts at 6:30 p.m. at South Kitsap High School. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Refreshments and souvenirs will be sold and free autographs from players will be available after the game.

Fans will see amazing basketball talent combined with hilarious comedy. It’s two hours of family time where parents, grandparents, and kids can all laugh together. Throughout the game fans will experience a magical display of tricks, coordinated ball handling, fancy passing and aerodynamic athleticism combined with high-energy comedy and audience interaction. The experience can only be summed up in two words: Awe-Inspiring

Tickets are available for purchase online at www.harlemwizards.com. Or by mail – download Ticket Order Form. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, 3 and under are free.

Proceeds will benefit the students of the South Kitsap School District.

This event is sponsored by the SK Parent Teacher Student District Council. For more information, contact Tracy Hopkins at tshopkins@wavecable.com.

South Kitsap Schools’ future after teacher layoffs

South Kitsap School District officials have invited parents and community members to a meeting to discuss the district’s future from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at South Kitsap High School.

The school board last week voted to lay off the equivalent of 15 teachers. The district is required under teachers’ contracts to send notices by May 15 to those whose positions are targeted for elimination. According to school board President Kathryn Simpson, the district actually will be eliminating 25 teaching positions, but some will come from attrition and retirement.

The district has cut $19 million since 2009 and faces the need to cut $6.5 million in the 2011-12 school year. Without local levy support, the district would be bankrupt, according to Terri Patton, assistant superintendent of business and support services.

South Kitsap in the past has been able to balance its shrinking budget through attrition, but enrollment — a key revenue driver — is down this school year (2010-11) by 3.22 percent, when the district had expected a decrease of 1.25 percent. In addition, federal stimulus funds that helped buoy the district through the past couple years has dried up, and the state has made drastic cuts to education.

The district learned partway through the school year (once its 2010-11 budget already had been adopted) that the state wold be cutting funding for the current year by about $2 million. This was partially offset by federal funding to save teachers’ jobs, but the net result was a loss of $890,000 in this school year.

The state Legislature has proposed deep cuts to education for the upcoming school year. The Senate version of the budget calls for a $250 million reduction to K-12 education that was not included in the House. They’ll go back to negotiations for a special session this week. For that reason, Simpson does not expect legislators representing South Kitsap to be at Wednesday’s discussion, although they were invited.

Bottom line, class sizes are going to increase. And the question parents likely will be asking — or should be asking — is what does this mean to my kid?

In addition to what the district has to say about how it will try to accommodate the loss of teachers, I wonder what plans families have for living with SKSD’s new normal.

Will you migrate to a private school? Likely that’s a factor in decreased enrollment, although I don’t have the stats at hand to prove it.

Will you give your kids a primer on how to get their questions answered, their voices heard in the crowd? Will you amp up your level of parental hovering, where schools are concerned?

One last question: Bainbridge Island has had considerable success supplementing that district’s budget through its foundation, with pledges and fundraisers.

Disclaimer: I’ve not heard anyone from South Kitsap School District raise this as a possibility. I’m just wondering if anyone out there would be willing to donate to public schools.

Just askin’.

Chris Henry, reporter