News

Camp Moran, police officer on chopping block

School district needs to cut

$1 million

With fewer students attending Oak Harbor schools, school leaders are looking to make more budget cuts in the coming weeks, possibly including such popular programs as the Camp Moran camping experience and the high school police officer.

The district needs to pare between $1.1 million and $1.5 million from next year’s $47.8 million budget. The latest round of reductions come a year after $2.3 million worth of cuts were made to resolve a 2007 shortfall.

Superintendent Rick Schulte cited several factors contributing to this year’s budget problem.

School district enrollment continues to decline. Officials are predicting that the equivalent of 100 fewer full-time students will attend school next year. That translates into a $500,000 reduction in state funding and a cut of several hundred thousand dollars in federal Impact Aid, Schulte said.

Adding to the budget woes, school employees received raises that state funding didn’t completely cover. The district is also seeing an increase in the amount paid to the state retirement system and there are also big increases in utility and fuel bills.

A current draft of the school budget places the school district’s fund balance at a meager $108,000, which is lower than the 3 percent to 5 percent fund balance that board policy requires the school district to maintain. Schulte said a fund balance is needed for cash flow purposes and to cover any unanticipated expenses.

Schulte presented an initial list of reductions during the Monday evening school board meeting. Those reductions include five teachers, the high school “resource officer,” which is the on-campus police officer, and Camp Moran.

The school resource officer was on the reduction list last year but in the end was spared. As for Camp Moran, school officials are looking for a cheaper option than sending students to the camp on Orcas Island.

School board member Corey Johnson questioned the wisdom of cutting the popular Camp Moran program, while fellow board member Gary Wallin asked about school security with the loss of the resource officer. He noted that the high school will be operating out of two campuses next year with freshmen bused to Clover Valley during construction.

Schulte said that all options will be presented during the board’s April 28 school board meeting.

The school board didn’t make any decisions during Monday’s meeting. There is more time to work on the budget. Additional discussions will be held when the district’s budget reconciliation committee meets Thursday, April 17, at 6:30 p.m.

Schulte said that any potential layoffs would be announced next month, that way affected employees will have time to find a new position. Currently, staffing accounts for 85 percent of the school district’s budget.

To increase revenue, the school district can look at asking local taxpayers for an increase to the maintenance and operations levy. Schulte pointed out the district has one of the lowest levy rates in the state and is collecting only a quarter of the maximum allowed by law. A levy proposal is scheduled to go before voters in 2009.

One thing that won’t change is how the school district is spending the current levy money. The district has an obligation to pay for what voters approved, including art and PE teachers at the elementary schools.

“We need to stick with the promise we made until at least through the next levy election,” Schulte said.

The Oak Harbor School District has until Aug. 31 to approve a balanced budget.

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