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No cuts planned for Oak Harbor schools

Superintendent Rick Schulte discusses the 2012-2013 school budget with Oak Harbor School Board members Gary Wallin and Christine Abbott at a school board meeting Monday evening. - Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times
Superintendent Rick Schulte discusses the 2012-2013 school budget with Oak Harbor School Board members Gary Wallin and Christine Abbott at a school board meeting Monday evening.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

The Oak Harbor School District’s budget doesn’t reflect major cuts for the first time in four years, a luxury that may only last until January.

After eight months of discussions and community workshops, the Oak Harbor School Board passed a $49.5-million budget Monday, which represents a $600,000 increase from last year due to a Department of Defense grant meant to improve math and literacy instruction at the secondary level.

“It’s very similar to the past ones and again we say, how long can we sustain it?” said Corey Johnson, school board president, at the meeting.

“It’s a flat no-frills, no-shrills budget,” Superintendent Rick Schulte said in a press release. “For the first time in years, we are not responding to a combination of higher costs and mandated cuts.”

Fears of mid-year cuts hang heavy over the district as Congress may enact across-the-board cuts of approximately 9 percent, which would take place in January. Oak Harbor receives approximately $4.5 million in federal Impact Aid per year, plus approximately $4.8 million in federal funding for programs such as school lunch, special education, vocational courses, Title 1 and grants.

To avoid mid-year disaster, Schulte set aside $1.4 million of supplies and materials budget, meaning teachers and principals won’t be able to purchase new supplies for the upcoming school year until Congress acts on its budget cuts.

The district faces another funding cut from Local Effort Assistance, the state levy match. The total assessed valuation of property in the district increased by 4.17 percent from 2012 to 2013, but the total assessed valuation within the state only increased by 1.28 percent. This means Local Effort Assistance will decrease by $127,000, Schulte explained at a school board meeting earlier this month.

“That’s not entirely unusual,” Schulte said.

The budget also reflects an increase of six employees, which is a first in three years. However, those positions may remain unfilled if the projected enrollment of 5,300 students is not met, according to Joe Hunt, communications director for the district. Employee costs, including salaries, wages and benefits, make up about 80 percent of the budget, which is less than 1 percent higher than last year’s budget.

Another funding challenge is a change in the way the state reimburses the school district for the cost of buses, which will cost the district about $220,000 this year. The new system pays for bus depreciation only after the fiscal year is over, requiring the district to pony up the cost this year, Hunt said.

Earlier this year, Schulte chose to refinance the bonds approved by taxpayers in 2006 to rebuild Oak Harbor High School, saving the community $600,000 through lower property taxes collected on these bonds.

 

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