ORTING, Wash. - The Orting School District in Pierce County has found itself in a difficult position recently, with school administrators saying they’ve had to make some tough decisions because of COVID-19.
They're decisions that some staff members say leave them without a job.
It’s an issue that was perhaps inevitable: school closures, reduced enrollment, and potential budget shortfalls leading to furloughs.
“Our school district decided to furlough a lot of our classified staff and our classified staff has been on the frontlines since COVID broke out, and now we're being the ones being cut,” says Jerri Silvernail, a paraeducator in the district.
Silvernail is one of 84 classified staff members who’s had her hours cut. Classified staff members include assistant teachers, bus drivers, custodians and more.
“I have worked for Orting school district for 33 years and I see the value of classified staff. Actually, they are the backbone of your school,” says Lovey Fischer, Orting High School secretary.
Fischer has not been furloughed, but stood with other furloughed staff a rally Thursday evening because she says they deserve better.
“Of course you need teachers and administrators, but you also desperately need bus drivers, food service, and custodians, secretaries, and maintenance people.”
Fischer says the furloughs have been particularly unpleasant for staff because so many felt blindsided.
“Just a lack of communication is what I think, and I don't think anything was done intentional and I don’t think things were done with malice. I just think things were done out of the thought of money, and when it comes to kids we have to get beyond that.”
A spokesperson for the district says cuts were only made to necessary positions where staff members who "could not provide meaningful work in support of our students and operations in their previous capacities."
They say they fully intend to bring all furloughed staff back once things go back to normal.
“I want see them put us back to work; the kids need to be in school,” says Silvernail.
“In Orting we believe in excellence for our children, and the classified staff are the ones that maintain that, and they're the drivers for that,” says Fischer.
Silvernail says she and others had been trying to find ways to keep staff members on, including having some faculty take early retirement or voluntary furlough in order to keep other staff on.
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