The Richland School District will not cut special education programs, despite impending budget shortfalls, according to a draft budget proposal unveiled at a board meeting Tuesday night.
The proposal calls for the district to use money from its reserve fund rather than cut special education programs.
Parents, teachers and community leaders gathered at the meeting Tuesday evening to show solidarity for the district’s paraeducators and the district’s special education programs.
The district unveiled its draft budget at the meeting.
Parents and community members have been waiting for the budget since Richland Education Association President Ken Hays said the district planned to cut a quarter of the paraeducator positions.
Paraeducators from the Richland Paraeducators Chapter of Public School Employees of Washington SEIU Local 1948 rallied prior to the meeting and attended the budget session.
Rick Jansons, school board president, apologized Tuesday night to those in attendance for contradictory information getting out to the public.
“We budget based on what is best for kids,” Jansons said.
Richland Superintendent Rick Schulte said revenue is up, but not enough to cover expenses.
The draft budget does not call for cuts in the special education program, Jansons and Schulte said.
Paraeducators negotiating with district
Annie Carlson, paraeducator union president, said the union has been in negotiations with the district to try to save jobs and retain special education programs.
“We have been working collaboratively with the Richland School District since we were aware of potential layoffs back in October,” said Annie Carlson, a special education paraeducator at Chief Joseph Middle School and president of the chapter.
“We have created subcommittees that have met twice a week for the past months in hopes of reaching a fair and equitable way of handling these potential layoffs while making sure our main focus remains on our students, their learning and their stability.”
Paraeducators work with some of the most vulnerable special needs and behaviorally challenged students, the union said in a statement.
Often, they care for kids with medical needs so severe that they can’t eat or use the bathroom without full aid from a paraeducator. This is in addition to ensuring that every student receives a quality education, the union added.
Union members were rallying outside the meeting in a show of solidarity.
The board meeting was moved to Marcus Whitman Elementary in anticipation of a large audience.