VANCOUVER, Wash. — Leaders at Evergreen Public Schools, the sixth largest district in Washington state, say that shrinking enrollment has created a budget shortfall — even though voters approved a replacement levy.
They say they're about $20 million short, and because of that they have to cut nearly 200 positions, ranging from teachers to bus drivers.
But people are really taking notice of cuts to one new department: the district's new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department.
Evergreen is a public school system with about 23,000 students, and nearly half are students of color. In this and other ways, it's a diverse student population. But it is led by teachers and administrators who are more than 90% white.
That was the backdrop for the creation in the past year of a department to address equity issues. But now three of its four equity advancement specialists are losing their jobs.
This did not go over well at a school board meeting this week. One of the specialists slated to lose her job was not afraid to voice her outrage.
“This is about as racist as it gets," said Charlotte Lartey, speaking before the school board members. "I think what we're all feeling in this this room is terrible.”
District leaders say they feel terrible too, but had little choice — that they had to follow collective bargaining agreements with seniority rules. Like the others whose positions were cut, the Equity Department losses were to newer provisional employees.
“It's a tough thing for that program, it's a setback for us and our equity work, and so I can understand why people are feeling frustrated about that,” said Interim Superintendent John Boyd.
Boyd has only been in the job since February. He’s thankful for voters passing the recent levy but challenged by the staff cuts.
“Our board is committed. I’m committed to it. I consider myself an equity leader and I stand committed to do that work. We're going have to envision it differently and have people lean in differently to make it work,” said Boyd.
The Vancouver NAACP wants to help the district with its challenges, writing a letter of support to those working on equity issues. But its leader is also disappointed in district leaders
“While we recognize there are some cuts that need to be made … to know that they would devalue equity in this fashion and cut those positions, I’m just concerned that the students aren’t going to receive an education that they deserve to receive,” said Jasmine Tolbert, Vancouver NAACP President.
Evergreen middle school teacher Adam Aguilera is upset, too.
“It doesn't seem to me that the district is wanting to continue its commitment and promise for equity to the community, which is in violation of its own school board policy that's been passed over the past couple years,” said Aguilera.
Now, members of the school board appear resigned to the cuts they say they didn't want to make.
“I am so impressed with the work that you all have done and I am broken over the change that has to come,” said board member Victoria Bradford at the board meeting this week.