District secretaries overworked after cuts

Coupeville school secretaries are concerned about the wellbeing of their coworkers and students.

Secretaries working in the Coupeville School District are overworked and concerned about the wellbeing of their coworkers and students.

In a series of letters sent to the school board in late 2023, a group of secretaries detailed their struggles amid the changes brought by the budget cuts, which were approved last spring in an attempt to pull the district out of its dire financial state. Last week, this situation prompted a $400,000 interfund loan to help pay salaries and accounts payable for January.

When it comes to surveillance of students, the district is currently left with Middle and High School Principal Geoff Kappes, Dean Tom Black — who now works three hours per day — and a recently added full-time certificated substitute to help with student supervision and staff support in the absence of Assistant Principal Leonard Edlund.

With a larger student population, a part-time dean and four paraeducators less compared to last year, Coupeville Educational Support Association president Shelly LaRue finds that support is still limited.

As a result of these staff reductions, employees are scrambling to keep students safe while trying to get their main tasks done during their workday, leaving little to no time to go to the restroom or eat lunch. However, with the new substitute, it’s been easier for some to take lunch breaks, LaRue said in an interview on Feb. 1.

During an interview last month, the authors of the letters, some of them teary-eyed, said they noticed that some of the students’ social and emotional struggles have only been getting worse. There have been instances where a student in crisis needed help, but the counselor was busy assisting a chaotic lunchroom that would have otherwise been unsupervised.

The letters were written by Coupeville Middle School Secretary Lisa Yoder, Registrar and Counseling Secretary Eileen Stone, Fiscal and Asociated Student Body Secretary Rosalie Fix and Attendance and Athletic Secretary Barbi Ford — who was not available for the interview. LaRue later wrote a message to support the secretaries’ cause.

According to LaRue, secondary campus secretaries regularly work over eight hours every day because of their increased duties and unexpected events involving students and families. Though they put in extra work, LaRue said the secretaries have not been properly compensated, as they need prior permission from their supervisor and the district.

Though Superintendent Steve King instructed them to leave at the end of their shift, according to LaRue, the secretaries don’t have the support they need to complete their tasks without distractions or to leave with the certainty that unsupervised students will be safe.

Fix said she couldn’t even remember her original job description.

“It has morphed so much,” she said. “We all wear 1,000 different hats throughout the day.”

On Jan. 4, King announced he will resign at the end of the school year. When interviewed, King said he was proud of the district for prioritizing the mental health and well-being of students by providing more mental health and counseling support.

While she agrees that working with community partners to provide additional mental health support is something to be proud of, LaRue wrote in a text that leaving the school understaffed while employees try to keep students safe does not indicate that the students’ mental health has been prioritized.

“These children are all of our responsibilities,” LaRue said during the interview, teary-eyed. “And how they grow up and who they become are all our responsibilities.”

Furthermore, she texted, the mental health of staff — including teachers, paraeducators, the dean, the secretaries and the custodians — should have been prioritized as well as they work directly with those students. The stress, the secretaries said, has taken a toll on their wellbeing.

“Many of these caring, experienced, and committed employees have had to wonder from year-to-year, under Mr. King’s leadership, if they would be able to retain their position throughout the school year or have a job to come back to in the fall,” LaRue wrote in an email.

Mainly, the secretaries agreed, the fault lies in the state, which is underfunding schools. For this reason, LaRue encourages community members to reach out to their local representatives and tell them why the complete funding of public schools is necessary.

The secretaries and LaRue expressed their gratitude to the school board for reaching out following the submission of the letters and for asking thoughtful questions.

Though budget cuts were necessary, LaRue said, they should be made wisely.

“When our health and the safety of our students becomes so affected that we feel we have to go public with some of these things, it’s really time to take a look at what decisions are being made,” she said.