Declining student enrollment forcing La Conner Schools budget cuts


The La Conner School District’s population has increased over the past decade but projected declines in student enrollment this fall is forcing tough budget personnel cuts ahead of the 2022-2023 academic year.

La Conner School Board members dealt with that harsh reality at their Monday study session by reluctantly agreeing to a plan of not renewing contracts of the two most recently hired high school teachers.

State funding of school districts is based on student enrollment. The drop from around 600 K-12 students in years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to the 530 pupils anticipated in classrooms here in the fall represents about a $500,000 loss in revenue, school officials estimate.

“We’ve got to get our student numbers back up,” said board president Susie Deyo, who has lobbied for marketing school programs to parents of students attending districts such as Conway and Immaculate Conception and those with kindergarten-age children.

“The (enrollment) arrow,” Deyo said, “is going the wrong way.”

In staff terms, the status of math teacher Donna Morris and sign language instructor Michelle Slater, due to lack of seniority, is tenuous.

A temporary COVID-19 secondary level remote teaching position filled by Helen Maura Jurenka will not be renewed.

The cruel irony, noted board member John Agen, is that Slater’s class is one of the more popular offerings at the high school and the district has made a major long-term commitment to and financial investment in its math programs, recently adopting a new K-12 curriculum package.

“I don’t want to go backward with math,” Agen said, “and sign language is very important, too.”

There remains hope the positions will remain if fall enrollment beats projections.

Agen asked if remaining staff can secure credentials necessary to teach these impacted classes.

“We’ll need to get together,” Superintendent Will Nelson said of his administrative team, “and see how we can make it work.

“This all happened on Friday,” he added, noting that by contract the district must notify affected staff of non-renewal decisions prior to May 15 to give them ample time to secure employment elsewhere.

“We looked at all financing that supplements the contracts we have,” Nelson said. “This was a very tough decision.”

The district’s population has grown, based on the 2020 U.S. Census. Its five director districts previously represented fewer than 1,000 residents each.

Now the average is 1,027 per board member district.

The board has reviewed drafts of district boundary adjustments reflecting population growth and are considering keeping in place present boundaries with slightly greater deviations from population means. There was no public input at a public hearing Monday. The board will vote on the map at itsMay 25 meeting..

The Town of La Conner is the one director district with fewer than 1,000 residents.

“We felt that with all the development now – the 10 houses on Maple, what’s happening behind the grocery store and Center Street – that the town will catch up,” said Deyo.


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