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Budget challenges Coupeville schools

If predictions hold true, the Coupeville School District will have to come up with at least $93,770 without receiving any extra money from the state.

That daunting figure is what school leaders will need just to cover the cost of living wage increases for staff next year. And that’s only one of the financial challenges they’ll face as they aim for a balanced budget by the July deadline.

To help build the budget, a committee has been formed to provide recommendations to the school board.

Superintendent Patty Page said the committee was formed in the wake of last year’s cutbacks. She said people had questions about why decisions were made then, and it is best to get more people involved earlier in this year’s budget process.

The committee consists of representatives from each of the employee unions, administrators and a couple of school board members.

One group absent from the committee is parents. Page said the school district hadn’t included parents in past budget committees. She plans to get parental input in the near future by holding a “community cafe.”

“We’re trying to be extremely transparent in the budget process,” Page said.

The committee hasn’t made official recommendations yet. Currently, it is focusing on three priorities: School programs have to meet all students’ needs, from at-risk to gifted; current staff should be retained; and current class size should be maintained.

The school district isn’t expecting to receive additional state money to help with next school year’s budget. The district’s enrollment, which dictates the money it receives from the state, is approximately 30 students higher this year than budgeted. However, that won’t translate into extra funding for the traditional schools. The growth can be pinpointed to the school district’s alternative Cedar Program, and the extra funding the district receives will go toward that program.

In the other schools, there are 14 additional students at the elementary school but 14 fewer students at the high school. There are 10 fewer students in the kindergarten class than in the senior class, so long-term growth looks stagnant.

While the school district works to balance a tight budget, staff is also dealing with the consequences of last year’s cutbacks and how to accommodate new legislation that could change graduation requirements.

The school district had to cut teaching positions, an administration position and support staff to balance its $9.2 million budget for the current school year.

Reductions hurt the high school’s career and technical program when a teaching position was eliminated. That made it difficult for students to earn the two credits required for graduation.

The school district had to implement additional math courses to help students meet WASL requirements. The district will also have to add a third credit of math to its graduation requirements. However, the district has had trouble hiring “highly qualified” personnel for positions.

The graduation requirements could further change if school districts are required to align themselves with entrance requirements to four-year colleges.

“Things aren’t going to get any easier on graduation requirements,” board member Kathleen Anderson said during Monday’s school board workshop about the budget.

The budget process comes as the school district is negotiating contracts with all of its unions.

Officials will also have to look at how to boost fund reserves and whether to make technology or textbook purchases.

An audience member questioned whether the school district should run a technology levy in the future.

Anderson said there are two years left on the current maintenance and operations levy and there are still projects left from the last bond election that need to be completed.

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