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Committee ponders cuts

Oak Harbor School District employees Jeanette Gewald, Shelley Collins, Mark Winford, and Oak Harbor Education Association President Peter Szalai, pore over details of an Oak Harbor School District budget draft during a committee meeting April 17. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor School District employees Jeanette Gewald, Shelley Collins, Mark Winford, and Oak Harbor Education Association President Peter Szalai, pore over details of an Oak Harbor School District budget draft during a committee meeting April 17.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Approximately 30 school staff met April 17 to help develop the criteria needed to make another round of cuts in the Oak Harbor School District budget.

School officials have to resolve an estimated $1.85 million shortfall in the district’s 2008-2009 budget.

Those who attended the budget reconciliation meeting heard about the school district’s continued shortfalls in recent years and possible targets for the current year that will also restore the district’s fund balance.

Superintendent Rick Schulte presented information showing the revenue losses and cost increases contributing to the school district’s budget problems.

The Oak Harbor School District is expecting to lose another 100 students next school year, which continues a trend it has experienced over the last five or six years. Schulte said enrollment has dropped between 600 and 700 students during that time and there isn’t anything indicating the trend will change.

He added the amount includes the 500 to 600 students the school district has lost from the declining number of Navy families.

“The Navy has been a major force in the drop in enrollment,” Schulte said during the meeting.

Fewer students attending Oak Harbor schools means less dollars coming from state and federal funding sources.

The school district is expecting to lose $500,000 in state funding and additional $177,000 in federal Impact Aid funding.

Costs are also increasing for the school district due to wage hikes, higher local contribution to the state retirement system, and higher utility and diesel costs.

The state doesn’t completely fund the increases to wages and the school district’s contribution to the retirement system. Schulte said the school district agreed to raises that are higher than what the state pays, and to make up for that increase, reductions have to be made elsewhere.

He also pointed out the school district is expecting an increase in utility costs and transportation, resulting in a $400,000 deficit in those areas.

The district is aiming to make $100,000 in transportation cuts. The lower enrollment also means there will be five fewer teachers working for the school district next school year.

Peter Szalai, president of the Oak Harbor Education Association, questioned why there was a predicted shortfall in Impact Aid revenue when it increased in other years when enrollment has dropped.

Oak Harbor resident Scott Hornung inquired whether money gained by students attending HomeConnection, a homeschool program where enrollment is increasing, can be used to fund other programs.

Schulte said many of the students attending HomeConnection are part-time students and it is a break-even program.

School district business director Vicki Williams echoed Shulte’s comments.

“We don’t siphon it off to spend it on other programs,” Williams said.

The people attending the budget meeting broke into small groups and spent about a half hour developing standards used to evaluate potential cuts. Those criteria include the effect on student learning, staff and public acceptance, risk, and if funds cut could be replaced with additional levy dollars. Voters will face a levy election next year.

The school district had to make significant cutbacks last year to resolve a $2.3 million shortfall, including closure of Clover Valley Elementary.

The declining enrollment comes as more homes are being built in the school district. However, the extra houses haven’t translated into more students.

“The more houses they build, they fewer students we have,” Schulte said.

The April 17 budget reconciliation committee was the only scheduled meeting for the group, but it isn’t the only chance for the public to comment on the proposed cutbacks.

The Oak Harbor School Board is scheduled to discuss the budget during its Monday, April 28, board meeting. That meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and takes place in the school district administration building, 350 S. Oak Harbor St.

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