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School budget finally balanced Monday

After eight months of deliberating and making cuts, the Oak Harbor School District will finally have a balanced, finalized budget for the 2007-2008 school year.

The school board will hold a public hearing Monday during its regular meeting. It’s the last step before the board approves the district’s $45.2 million budget. The school district is required to have a budget approved by the end of August.

The adopted budget marks the end of a difficult school year for the Oak Harbor School District.

A dwindling fund balance, increasing employee costs and declining enrollment contributed to a budget shortfall that officials had to resolve before a budget could be balanced.

Early projections in late 2006 showed the school district would be dealing with a $3.5 million budget shortfall. Later on that number was reduced $2.4 million when revenue predictions improved.

However, school leaders did have to make tough decisions to balance the budget. They eliminated teaching positions, laid off support staff and closed Clover Valley Elementary School.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said the pending adoption Monday is the culmination of work that began in January. With the committee work and public meetings that have taken place over the months, there shouldn’t be any surprises with Monday’s decision.

This doesn’t mean the district is out of the budgetary woods. Schulte said there are several factors that are out of the school district’s control and if they aren’t corrected, more budget cuts are likely.

“It is going to happen again,” Schulte said.

He said employee costs, such as cost of living increases, medical premiums, retirement contributions, and supplemental pay continue to rise and the school district doesn’t receive enough money to cover those increases.

“Each of those has components that aren’t going to be paid by anybody,” Schulte said about the outside funding the school district receives to cover cost increases.

Another area where the school district has run into trouble is enrollment projections. Schools receive state funding based on the number of full-time students. In Oak Harbor, the student count has been steadily declining.

“Enrollment has been gradually going down for the past six years,” Schulte said. The district is projecting that an equivalent of 5,200 full-time students school this fall, 250 fewer than projected in 2005.

In addition to enrollment, the school district has difficulty predicting how much it will receive in federal Impact Aid. The district is budgeting to receive approximately $5 million in the coming school year. However, there’s no way to guess exactly how much or when the money will come through. That’s up to Congress.

Whether it’s the increasing staff costs, dwindling enrollment or the unpredictable Impact Aid, school officials can only work to minimize its impact.

“We can only take steps to address those issues,” Schulte said.

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