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Student drop-off continues in district

It looks like the Oak Harbor School District will see fewer students attending its schools again in the fall, which means less money and all the problems that entails.

There will likely be more staff reductions to reconcile with fewer dollars coming into the school district.

The school district is projecting there will be the equivalent of 5,100 full-time students attending Oak Harbor schools in the fall, which is 100 fewer students than what was projected for the current school year.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said during Monday’s school board meeting that the low projection means there will be an approximate $500,000 reduction in basic education funding from the state. The state bases its funding on how many students are enrolled.

The loss of funding means staff reductions of five teaching positions and 1.7 classified positions are anticipated. Schulte said he hopes those reductions will be made through attrition. School officials also want to make a $60,000 cut in non-employee costs.

Schulte said the enrollment decline shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. The school district’s enrollment has been declining for years. Many school districts in Western Washington are dealing with the same problem. South Whidbey School District is considering shuttering one of its two elementary schools.

Oak Harbor uses enrollment numbers from the past five years to predict the next five years. Schulte said that is the most accurate way to predict how many students will be in school.

Other things, such as monitoring the birth rate and private school enrollment, haven’t proved reliable. It’s surprising, perhaps, that tracking the number of homes being built has proven to be a reverse correlation to the number of students in the district.

“The more they build, the fewer kids we seem to have,” Schulte said.

The school district is projecting 150 students attending HomeConnection, which is an increase. The superintendent said that the enrollment increase is coming from families that already home school their children and not from students in traditional schools. The program would see even more students if there was more space, Schulte told the board.

Declining enrollment isn’t a new problem for the school district. The money lost with fewer students attending schools was one of the reasons Clover Valley Elementary School was closed last year.

The school board discussed other options to help resolve potential budget problems and again complained about unfunded mandates, which are state requirements that come with no money attached.

“We have to stand up to our legislators and say enough is enough and we’re not going to do this anymore,” school board member Corey Johnson said. He wants staff to identify unfunded mandates and programs.

Those sentiments were echoed by David McCool, board president.

“Why can’t we look at cutting unfunded mandates as a way to save money,” McCool asked.

Board member Peter Hunt said entire programs should be looked at for possible elimination to ensure a sustainable budget.

School officials are forming the district’s 2008-2009 budget. Schulte said there will be opportunities for public input during the budget process.Schulte said that is the most accurate way to predict how many students will be in school.

Other things, such as monitoring the birth rate and private school enrollment, haven’t proved reliable. It’s surprising, perhaps, that tracking the number of homes being built has proven to be a reverse correlation to the number of students in the district.

“The more they build, the fewer kids we seem to have,” Schulte said.

The school district is projecting 150 students attending HomeConnection, which is an increase. The superintendent said that the enrollment increase is coming from families that already home school their children and not from students in traditional schools. The program would see even more students if there was more space, Schulte told the board.

Declining enrollment isn’t a new problem for the school district. The money lost with fewer students attending schools was one of the reasons Clover Valley Elementary School was closed last year.

The school board discussed other options to help resolve potential budget problems and again complained about unfunded mandates, which are state requirements that come with no money attached.

“We have to stand up to our legislators and say enough is enough and we’re not going to do this anymore,” school board member Corey Johnson said. He wants staff to identify unfunded mandates and programs.

Those sentiments were echoed by David McCool, board president.

“Why can’t we look at cutting unfunded mandates as a way to save money,” McCool asked.

Board member Peter Hunt said entire programs should be looked at for possible elimination to ensure a sustainable budget.

School officials are forming the district’s 2008-2009 budget. Schulte said there will be opportunities for public input during the budget process.

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