Wenatchee Schools Could Dump Online Program Due To Budget Shortfall
The Wenatchee Internet Academy is under a microscope as the school district deals with an $8 million to $9 million budget shortfall.
Teachers, parents and union staff members all spoke at the last school board meeting about whether the Academy should be preserved or shut down.
Jessie Sagerser is a teacher for the online program, who says it's helping students who have trouble with in-person classes.
"These students are growing and thriving at WIA (Wenatchee Internet Academy)," said Sagerser. "And this is fantastic news. Your investment in creating an alternative learning environment, it is meeting the unique needs of our WSD (Wenatchee School District) students."
One option being considered to balance the budget shortfall would completely close down the online classes.
Three teachers with the Internet Academy, including Sagerser, spoke during the Citizen' Comments portion of the February 14 Wenatchee School Board meeting.
The teachers all came out in favor of preserving the program. They were joined by two parents and a student, who all stressed that online classes provided a successful learning experience.
The Internet Academy was started in 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic was initially on the rise, and in-person classes were suspended. At the time, it had a peak attendance of 533 students and was mostly funded by federal money.
That funding is now drying up and will need to be replaced with other sources of money.
Enrollment has sharply decreased for the Internet Academy since the pandemic subsided and in-person classes resumed. There was an average of 433 students in 2021-22, 195 in 2022-23, and 49 students in the current school year.
Three union staff members spoke during the Citizens' Comment period of the meeting. Two of them did not support preserving the online program.
Lori Wisemore with the classified staff union says the Internet Academy is a drain on the rest of the budget.
"$330,000 dollars is very significant," said Wisemore. "There's no guarantee to increase our enrollment in that program. And terminating other employee positions to try and sustain something that is bleeding is not a band aid. That would be fiscally irresponsible."
Numbers compiled by the district show the online program is overstaffed by three employees, based in enrollment. The program will run a deficit of $330,000 by the end of the school year.
An NEA teacher's union speaker, Monika Christensen, did not take a stance regarding the online program, but instead thanked the superintendent, school board and all parties involved for the transparency of the process.
The school board will choose between one of three options at its next meeting on Feb 28 to deal with the budget hole. Only one of the options will completely eliminate the Internet Academy.