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Oak Harbor School District enrollment up but down

After the first monthly enrollment count, Oak Harbor School District numbers are coming in above budget, a fact that board member Gary Wallin described as “pleasantly surprising.”

In the budget that was passed last month, the board projected enrollment at 5,225 full time-equivalent students, but a Sept. 13 enrollment count yielded 5,343 FTE students, an increase of 118.

For the 2010-2011 school year, Oak Harbor receives $5,132 from the state per basic education “full-time equivalent,” or FTE, student if there aren’t any more cuts. When the board members submitted their budget in August, they included additional revenue for up to 100 students more than the projected amount as a contingency, but didn’t allocate the extra funds. If the board members hadn’t allowed for that wiggle room, and more students arrived than projected, they would’ve had to create a budget extension if they wanted to spend that money.

However, based on yearly trends, Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon expects the count to drop by about 75 FTE students by the end of the year.

“Looking at it conservatively, you would say we’re in good shape,” Gibbon said. “We’re not going to end up below budget.”

Gibbon said any additional revenue that comes in will not be spent this year unless an emergency arises. He said the district will likely use the money to offset some of the expected cuts to next year’s bleak budget. Despite the relatively positive enrollment numbers, Superintendent Rick Schulte drew the board’s attention to a possible challenge regarding the number of special education students attending Oak Harbor this year.

“We’re seeing a significant increase in our special education enrollment and many of them are more severely impacted kids,” Schulte said.

Special education enrollment is up by 40 FTE students and since the children have more serious needs, the district may need to fund more expensive services. The state increases the dollar amount for each special education student, but Gibbon said it’s generally not enough. Despite the child’s condition, the state offers an average flat dollar amount per student, and costs usually exceed the student revenue. Additionally, Gibbon said that money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which runs out at the end of next year, is keeping special education afloat right now and paying for staff. Without that money, the district will need to scrape together another resource or be forced to cut back employees.

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