Oak Harbor sharpens school budget ax

At the Oak Harbor School District meeting on Monday, Superintendent Rick Schulte asked the board for help in identifying which factors should be considered when the district is forced to put employees on the chopping block.

In the face of harsh budget cuts, Schulte expects to make staff reductions for the 2011-2012 school year and has started discussion about reducing building and district administration.

This year, the district was able to avoid laying off employees by taking advantage of regular turnover like resignations and retirements, but Schulte doesn’t anticipate any such events come June, so tough decisions will have to be made.

Though the board members were saddened by the thought of letting go employees, they unanimously supported Schulte’s judgement.

“He’s earned our trust in that respect, and it’s not something that we give lightly, it’s something that he’s earned,” board member Peter Hunt said. “He usually knows what direction the district needs to go.”

The board members talked about trying to consolidate positions and about the importance of others picking up the slack. Schulte noted that the board may spend time looking at a study conducted by Bruce Worley, the district’s executive director of operations, which analyzes how comparable Washington schools districts have their administrative positions organized.

Board member Corey Johnson mentioned that the district could consider reducing some full-time positions like the athletic director and career and technical education director.

“It’s a little bit hard to mention these things,” Johnson said. “These are all people we know and positions that we can put a name and face to.”

But Johnson said that starting a preliminary discussion on staff cuts was wise and may even be appreciated by staff.

“We might be doing (administrators) a favor in letting them know early in case they want to look somewhere else,” he said.

Board member Dave McCool agreed that it’s best to look toward the future.

“It’s better for the health of the organization just to identify what you’re not going to do anymore and commit to do the remaining things better,” he said.

Under Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget proposal, Oak Harbor’s K-4 certificated staff funding would be reduced by about eight teachers and state levy match would drop another $40,000. Additionally, Oak Harbor’s federal stimulus funding in Title 1 and Special Education, which is currently being used to pay for certificated and classified staff salaries, will be discontinued.

In a note to the board, Schulte wrote, “Since this was temporary funding, we now expect the items or staff purchased with it will be discontinued unless there is other funding available, which we are not expecting.”

Schutle has scheduled five committee meetings to plan the 2011-2012 budget before the Aug. 31 deadline. Meetings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Jan. 24, Feb. 7 and 21, and March 7 and 21 at the district office, 350 S. Oak Harbor St. The public is encouraged to attend.

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