Coupeville School District plays the waiting game

When Coupeville School District administrators prepared the 2011-2012 draft budget adopted Monday that included over $900,000 in cuts, their wisdom derived from a Revolutionary War general’s famous words.

“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” was the order given at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

“No certainties until we see the whites of their eyes” was the call made in the elementary school library and a phrase used repeatedly by business manager Ben Thomas during the budget presentation.

Because enrollment numbers have been on the decline for the past four years, district administrators are hesitant to budget for much more than the necessary bare bones until they count the noses of students arriving in the fall. Next year, the board budgeted for 881 full-time equivalent students, a decrease of 80 FTE (full-time equivalents) from last year’s actual enrollment numbers. Last year, the district was put in a tight spot when they found themselves over budget by more than 20 FTE students, so this year, the members are being as cautious as possible in their estimates.

Enrollment numbers peaked at 1,128 in 2004-2005, and steadily fell, hitting a low of 961 last year. However, the number of kindergartners increased slightly last year, and board members hope that trend will continue.

“I do hope with the conservative nature of this budget that we’re able to reinstate things later on,” Thomas said.

Overall, Coupeville expects to see nearly a $900,000 loss in revenues between the enrollment dip, reduced state funding for staff members and benefits, the elimination of K-4 enhancement funding and the reduction of special education, Title 1 funding and stimulus money at the federal level.

To battle the cuts, the board has vowed to lower expenditures by almost $1.5 million through staff reductions and other means. Administrative staff was reduced by 0.4 FTE and classified and certificated staff numbers were reduced by a total of 18.3 FTE positions.

The board began negotiations with the Coupeville Education Association this week over how to handle the 1.9 percent cut to teachers’ compensation mandated by the state Legislature.

Other big cutbacks were made to maintenance, supply, travel and informations systems budgets totaling just over $80,000.

The 2011-2012 budget results in a general fund balance of $792,627. Though the board members seemed relatively pleased with the fund balance, Superintendent Patty Page expressed sadness over how the numbers came to be.

“This looks healthy,” she said, “but it is on the back of all the cuts we had to make.”


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