Yelm schools’ community forum draws crowd to brainstorm solutions

‘We can’t do this separately. We have to do this together. We need your help.’


It was standing room only -- and very little of that remaining -- at Yelm Community Schools’ community yesterday, May 16 at Yelm Middle School’s Commons.

Superintendent Chris Woods hosted the event which approximately 400 people attended in response to the district’s failure to pass the school levy this year.

The meeting focused on reviewing the results of the district’s Reduced Education Plan Budget Priorities Survey and brainstorming practical ways to adapt to necessary budget cuts while providing the best possible education for the students.

This reduced budget comes as a result of the vote rejecting the replacement levy for educational programs and operations. The current levy expires at the end of 2024. The district twice held special elections proposing a replacement levy, and both times the majority of voters turned it down. According to Yelm Community Schools, the levy represents 13% of the district’s budget, or $15.3 million.

Budget Priorities Survey

The survey posed 12 questions about the Reduced Education Plan Budget, seeking stakeholders’ opinions about how to prioritize cost-related components of the district’s overall educational and activities offerings.

The first question identified respondents’ roles in the district. Respondents included 142 students, 876 parents, 586 community members, 217 classified staff, 297 certified staff, and 28 administrative staff. The remaining 11 questions are broken down into categories aspects of the district’s expenses that will be affected by the budget reduction.

Attendees at the meeting sat at the circular tables in the commons, with groups spilling over to the perimeter of the room, and they listed practical ideas to cut costs, offer alternative or less expensive options, make the budget stretch farther, or to highlight things that should not be cut.

I joined a group including Kayla Willis, Nicole Cross (both volunteers at McKenna Elementary and parents of students there), John (parent of students at Ridgeline Middle School), Darla Marquez (volunteer at Ridgeline and parent of elementary and middle school students), and Constance Rush (parent of students at Mill Pond Elementary and Ridgeline).

The group dove into the topic at hand, discussing and sparking ideas that would help the district deal with the budget cuts and offer the best programs possible within the budgetary constraints. What follows is this group’s list of ideas, along with a few from other groups, as a representative sample of the ideas generated at the community forum. There are also some explanations and anecdotes relevant to the issues.

11 brainstorming topics and suggestions

1) Additional instructional classroom support  (Importance of providing learning support services and curriculum materials)

Brainstorming suggestions included:

    • Parental involvement (to help teachers working with larger classes)
    • Older student involvement/ volunteering
    • After-school tutoring groups
      • How do we hold people accountable?
      • Behavior issues?
    • Group members explained that volunteers have to pass a background check.

2) Athletics & activities 

(Using levy funds of $1.7 million, YCS has offered high school varsity, junior varsity [JV], C-team sports; middle school sports and clubs which require administration, support staff, coaches/ advisors, travel for events, equipment and other supplies.)

      • One volunteer said that her husband was asked if he would volunteer to coach JV baseball because the program could be cut for lack of funding. Members pointed out that it negatively affects varsity sports if upstream programs are taken away.
      • Benefits of school sports: student-athletes learn team building, working in a group, preparation for life
      • Volunteer coaches (What would be the requirements?)
      • Fewer/ shorter practices
      • Shared coaches (such as among JV teams)
      • Ask Intercity Transit to provide teams with free transportation to games.
        • It would be just for kids and only for athletics competitions
      • Team fundraising - car washes, bake sales
      • Volunteers in the group related a situation involving school activities and the importance of volunteer involvement.
        • An end-of-year dance at Yelm Middle School (for the current 2023-24 school year) didn’t have any volunteer chaperones and was in danger of being cancelled. The school’s booster club president and the president’s kids were leaving the school, and there was nobody in the YMS Booster Club to step in and volunteer and recruit more volunteers for the event, a volunteer narrated.
        • McKenna Elementary booster club members stepped up and offered to help out so that the students at the middle school can have their dance.
        • This anecdote highlights the way in which the community needs to come together and help out in the schools.

3) Class size

            (In grades 4-12, the current average class size is 27.)

      • Limit out-of-district transfers into YCS
      • Parent volunteers - may not get class size smaller, but provide more support for teachers
      • Study groups with parent/ high school volunteers
      • Keep parents involved when kids need support
        • Require parents top come sit with their children when they have trouble behaving
        • On-call volunteer list
      • Creative individual student work solutions
        • A volunteer told of a teacher who lets her students go outside and work on their computers when the weather is good.

4) Custodial, Grounds & Maintenance Services

      • Student helpers
        • Teaches life skills (McKenna students currently can volunteer to perform tasks such as sweeping floors, scraping food off lunch plates)
        • Learn to clean up after themselves and take care of stuff
        • Cut down numbers of staff needed to provide these services
        • Incentivise work for them (little toys, stickers, pencils, etc. as prizes)
      • Groundskeeping club
      • Pull weeds, mow, trash pickup
      • Gardening clubs for students
        • Horticulture class
        • Garden produce could be used in school lunches

5) Health, Safety, & Supervision

      • Parent group
      • Dads’ group (Ridgeline has a dads’ group to walk amongst students in the halls, encourage them, give out hi-fives, congratulate them on athletics and activities successes, etc.)
      • Hall monitors/ self-management (they have to earn that right)
      • Incentives - reward good behavior (class earns watching movies, etc.)
      • Loss of privileges - such as recess (sit up by wall)
      • Have administrative staff help out
        • For example, the principal in a different district served as crossing guard, complete with the vest and stop sign. It allowed him more visibility in the community and contact with parents, and it demonstrated to students how leaders can step up and help out in creative ways.
      • Some of the parents and volunteers have heard that nurses may be cut or have to cover more than one school. “Is that a thing? I hope not!” One parent exclaimed. “Nurses are a must.”

6) Libraries

(Providing access to the library and maintenance of resources)

      • Book fair (including book voucher for good behavior)
      • Donations - books, money
        • Encourage community members, when getting rid of children’s books, to donate them to the school libraries.
      • High school libraries need to be staffed at lunch time -- a lot of students go there for a quieter space; it needs to be monitored.

7) Non-core instructional programs (elementary)

            (Art, music, band, physical education, and technology are offered through specialists beyond the general classroom)

      • Limit tech classes to older kids
      • Shared teachers within district for elective periods (example: art teacher, music teacher switch schools at middle of day or else at new semester)
      • Combine classes to teach more students at once in these areas
      • After-school volunteer instruction

8) Non-core instructional programs (secondary)

(Programs such as visual and performing arts, Career and Technical Education [agriculture, business, marketing, health sciences, human services, automotive, skilled and technical science], leadership and other elective courses are offered to help students explore their interests and develop a plan for after high school.)

      • More important for secondary than elementary
      • Collaborate with other districts for some specialized, particularly technical education, classes
      • Offer more trades classes (plumbing, welding, culinary, etc.) by partnering with area trade schools, community colleges
      • Don’t cut foreign language learning classes!

9) Pay-to-play fee increase

(YCS currently charges pay-to-play fee for athletics: $50 for high school; $30 for middle school.)

      • Fund raising - balance of cost not raised to be divided amongst team members
      • Pay what you can
      • Use uniforms for more seasons
      • Parents provide snacks
      • Increase ticket costs for those attending events

10) Social, emotional, and behavior supports & student interventions

      • Student counselors/ peer support/ “buddy” system - ex. 5th graders helping 1st graders
      • Dedicated classroom with paras (2) for disruptive kids
        • Not in-school suspension as much as a time-out for kids who are disrupting their class
        • Allows both classmates and the disruptive students to refocus on work
      • Parents required to show up at school and sit with their kids following behavior problems (if the parents have to lose a day of pay, they’ll take disciplining their kids at home more seriously)

11) Technology

(Maintain infrastructure, instructional software and learning devices)

      • Sell computers and tablets, go back to pencil & paper (especially in elementary, but even in secondary)
        • Instruction can be just as effective without computers for every student.
        • Would eliminate distractions and misuse of time when students browse internet instead of working.
      • Kids don’t need to learn how to use technology -- they already surpass the adults

Next steps

At the end of the meeting, Woods informed the attendees of the next steps YCS will take to make money-saving ideas a reality and offered closing remarks.

      • Review ideas and suggestions with staff
      • Share ideas and suggestions with the community
      • Determine costs of changes to determine impact
      • Schedule forum #2 to continue conversations
      • Meet with school board to share specific ideas and possible recommendations

“We will keep the district website updated with information about this whole process to continue keeping the community updated,” Woods announced. He showed that the YCS website includes FAQs about the budget cuts and measures to be taken.

The district hopes to reverse some changes initially made in the budget-cutting process. “In the next few weeks, we will try to bring back staff from staff reduction,” he stated.

Perhaps the overarching themes running through the evening were the importance of the community coming together to help the schools and the idea that with all working together, YCS and its students can succeed. “We can’t do this separately. We have to do this together. We need your help, and we need the help of people in the community who weren’t here tonight,” Woods exhorted.

Woods demonstrated his personal commitment to involving the community and giving this process all the attention it needs by telling the crowd, “I’m trying to return every call about this because it’s important to stay in close contact with community members.”

As an example of even the students pitching in to help, Woods acknowledged the students who attended the community forum. The attendees applauded these students. He also gave a shout-out to a high school student named Lucy, who has served as a student representative on the district's board. She has contacted him many times asking what she can do to help, he announced. Students such as Lucy help make the schools better for all involved as they lead by example.

For more information on YCS’ ongoing plans and announcements of future events, visit the district’s Reduced Education Plan page


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • olyhiker

    Lots of ideas but does anyone think they will happen? It would have been so much easier to vote YES on the levy. I do like the technology ideas, though. Should add no cell phones during class.

    Saturday, May 18 Report this

  • Dave_A

    Whoever is talking about selling computer equipment just isn't in touch with reality:

    1) School laptops/tablets that have been heavily used by kids have no residual value

    2) The computer equipment saves the school money over paper materials - paper isn't free, and paying for paper books that will get destroyed/damaged & have to be replaced is expensive.

    3) As someone who was in K-12 during the transition from the paper world to the digital world (85-98), the last thing we need is to send kids back to the processes & systems associated with doing work by hand on paper (especially the god-awful process of handwriting (repeatedly, multiple drafts) essays, vs doing them in a word processor).... Someone who thinks that kids are 'naturally' ahead in technology might be right if the technology in question is the extremely simplified & locked down world of using cell phones. But that's not what they are going to be using at work as adults....

    Friday, May 24 Report this