Oak Harbor schools fear $600,000 cut from state

Due to state budget hardships, the senate has proposed a two-thirds reduction to Local Effort Assistance, the state levy match. This would cut as much as $600,000 beginning in January for the Oak Harbor School District.

If continued, next year’s cuts would be approximately $900,000.

The Oak Harbor School Board met with Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen Thursday to discuss the issue. Another public meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 3 at 5:30 p.m. for a discussion with Rep. Barbara Bailey and Rep. Norma Smith. The meeting will take place at the school district building and promotes public comment.

Oak Harbor schools spend approximately $1,000 less per student than Anacortes and approximately $600 less per student than Coupeville, said communications director Joe Hunt.

Such cuts are especially difficult in the middle of a school year because the budget has already been adopted.

After continual cuts over the past few years, the district is at the minimum for teachers, janitors clean classrooms every other day instead of every day and new textbooks are unaffordable. This means further cuts can only harm students and instruction, said Superintendent Rick Schulte.

While Haugen pledged her support in the senate, if the cut happens, she prefers the elimination of entire programs at schools. Otherwise, programs are continually nipped away at until they can no longer function, Haugen said.

Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon suggested taking a “bold step” and changing the state’s student testing system, which he said could save money, prevent the disruptions of scheduling computers for every student to take the tests and gain back instructional time.

“By adjusting our spending on assessments and time required, the state could save over $30 million in assessment costs, increase instructional time and reduce administrative burdens with no loss in accountability,” Gibbon said.

“Other states handle testing through valid and reliable paper and pencil, fill-in-the bubble assessments in just two to three days. Some states have online assessments that are done in one day for all subjects as compared with three to four days in Washington,” Gibbon said.

Haugen agreed to investigate the issue further.

School board member Gary Wallin suggested the state take away unfunded mandates, which ask the school district to collect data and perform other expensive tasks that the state doesn’t fund.

Gibbon added that these unfunded mandates aren’t serving the interest of Oak Harbor students. A source at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction told Gibbon that next year, the state wants to collect daily discipline information from schools, which would waste time that could be spent instructing, Gibbon said.

Cutting days out of the school year is an option the school board addressed. Haugen said she is strongly against that and would rather see the school year lengthened: “In this day and age, we need to educate our children.”

“It’s the best of the bad alternatives,” Schulte said.

No matter what gets cut, it will impact education negatively, said school board member Peter Hunt. But if the community has to face these difficult cuts, such as getting daycare for children if school days are cut, maybe they will be more likely to vote for more taxes to help the schools, Hunt said.


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