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Royal School District discusses reducing positions, tighter budget

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | May 22, 2024 1:20 AM

ROYAL CITY — The Royal School Board discussed its efforts to work with a tighter budget during special and regular meetings Monday. Superintendent Roger Trail said the budget reductions will not require lay-offs but will lead to reduced staff.

“We're continuing to work on rightsizing our budget, and as I had mentioned in the past when 80% of your budget is connected to personnel, that's one of the places that you really have to look at,” Trail said. “I am pleased, in certain ways, to announce that there are four positions that we should be able to absorb, and that will be through attrition.”

Attrition is a process of reducing staff, either through resignations or terminations, and not replacing those positions.

“Fortunately, we are in a position where we will not have to lay anyone off,” Trail said in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald. “A variety of factors, including inflation, enrollment, and funding formulas, are affecting the school’s bottom line. Consequently, we are in the process of tightening our belts, and we will be absorbing some positions through attrition.”

Staff are leaving these positions voluntarily, Trail said during the meeting.

“The good news is we have four resignations and we've got four positions that we can absorb,” he said. “We're expecting (and) there is a high likelihood of two more resignations, we just have not received those yet. So I think we're in a pretty good position as far as that's concerned.”

According to Trail, the resignations are all in the buildings where the positions are being cut.

“Because enrollment is still very strong at the middle school and the high school we have been proceeding with sort of business as usual for filling open positions,” he said. “It's been (Royal) Intermediate and Red Rock (Elementary) where we've been kind of holding.”

During Red Rock Principal Missy Stevenson’s report to the board, she said the elementary school is seeing better enrollment in early learning.

Enrollment directly impacts the funding the district receives from the state. Royal School District Business Manager Greg Pike then gave his report to the board, discussing the enrollment projections for next year’s school year. 

“I believe I had 1596 (full-time equivalent students),” Pike said. “I think we're going to be adjusting that (upward) given what we're seeing.”

According to previous reporting from the Columbia Basin Herald, the 2022-23 school year had a total enrollment of 1,684 full-time equivalent students, and the projected enrollment for 2023-24 in July 2023 was 1,653 students.

Pike said the monthly general fund budget is a bit higher than last month. Board member Dan Miller asked if Pike projected the fund to continue increasing. He said it will likely keep increasing, depending on certain district expenses.

“It’s going in the right direction,” Trail said.

With a tighter budget in mind, the board also discussed the need for improved transportation for athletic teams. 

“We do have some teams that can be transported in (Chevy) Suburbans or vans,” Trail said. “Knowing that we have a shortage of bus drivers, I think everybody agrees that the more vans or Suburbans that we have can be helpful in the long run.”

Trail elaborated on some of the pros and cons of purchasing additional vans. 

“We want to make sure that we’re responsible with our budget,” Trail said, “Also knowing that brand new 10-passenger vans run around $88 000, and then there's also the discussion, with the 10-passenger (vans) you might get one or two more (passengers) than a Suburban, but it also looks like a used Suburban probably would not be quite as expensive.”

Transportation Director Ernesto Deras said the SUVs and vans act as a backup if bus drivers are not available, since team coaches can drive. He said using SUVS or vans saves money in the long run since the district does not have to pay for a driver. In addition to increased capacity over the SUVs, the vans also have increased storage space. 

Since the vans would be purchased through the general fund, they will be available to use for many different school activities, not just athletic teams. The vans would require coaches to have Type 2 Driver's Licenses and to go through training on driving the vans, Deras said. 

“I fully support the vans, I just think we want to do it with caution,” board member Alison Huntzinger said.

Board Chair Craig Janett agreed with Huntzinger that the vans would need to be implemented with a thought on how to train the drivers and prepare them to drive fully-loaded vans in different conditions, with factoring in snow tires into the budget as well. 

No action was taken during the special meeting.

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Royal School Board members, from left to right, Craig Janett, Dan Miller and Ian Bergeson discuss the possible purchase of new vans for increased transportation capacity.
 
 
    Royal School Board members Nasario Soliz, left, and Alison Huntzinger, right, listen to staff during Monday’s meeting.
 
 
    Royal School Board members Nasario Soliz, left, and Alison Huntzinger, right, listen to staff during Monday’s meeting.