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School board OKs $39 million budget
"The Oak Harbor school board approved the school district's annual budget Monday night, for the 2001-2002 school year.However, the $39 million budget may need some serious revisions, school district superintendent Rick Schulte told the board at its regular meeting Monday evening.So far, enrollment for the coming school year is down by 150 students from what Schulte had hoped for, and on which the new budget was based.We will be looking for some pretty serious cuts, Schulte said.Schulte said Friday that a number of teaching positions would be filled if actual enrollment numbers meet the projected estimate, but would go unfilled should the enrollment take a dramatic drop. While the decreased enrollment is based on actual enrollment figures from the elementary and middle schools, the final total, including high school enrollment, will not be available until the second week in September.In the board bulletin, which Schulte regularly prepares to inform board members, the superintendent first cautioned that two points of uncertainty could cause serious disruption to our adopted budget, and later said, Nevertheless, the proposed budget is a solid budget based on the best information we have available at this time and it should be adopted by the school board.Aside from declining enrollment, Schulte said a delay in receiving Impact Aid funding could cause problems, too.The numbers are very preliminary. I don't want anyone to panic yet, Schulte said.While he did not cite facts, Schulte said he thinks the decrease in this year's enrollment is because of the shortage of military family housing in Oak Harbor. With a third of the Navy's housing assets unavailable because of remodeling and construction, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station has been designated a critical housing area. As such, incoming military members are advised in their orders that it might be wise to leave their families behind at the previous duty station until suitable civilian housing can be found. Also, Schulte said, military families new to the area may also be renting houses in Anacortes or Mount Vernon.However, Kim Martin, public affairs officer for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station said that currently 398 out of 1,550, or 25 percent, military family houses are vacant because of remodeling and construction.Martin said, generally speaking, the vacancy rate of civilian rental properties in Oak Harbor before the military housing remodel was between 7 and 11 percent. Now that 398 military houses are unavailable, the civilian vacancy rate is less than 1 percent.The district receives about $5,000 in state funding per child enrolled full-time in the district. Additionally, the district receives impact aid for children of military personnel, bringing the total of state and federal aid for military children to about $8,000 each. Still, school board president Kathy Jones stated her approval, saying, Generally, it's a very good budget. The budget presented to the board stayed within the parameters of the district's and the board's budget assumptions, she said.Prior to hearing about the steep decline in expected enrollment, Jones said she had been prepared to call the document a budget to celebrate because it provided for the addition of teachers despite the trend of declining enrollment.Additionally, Jones said through the passage of the maintenance and operations levy on March 13, and the addition of state money from the Initiative 728 Student Achievement Act, Oak Harbor School District has added more teachers, more time to teach and will now offer a hot lunch program. Most of the added teachers and the time to teach is directed toward the elementary schools, while the hot lunch program will begin and the two middle schools and the high school this year. Jones said these area were high priorities 10 years ago, and they didn't happen then, but they did now.Jones also defended the budget for school administration, saying the current administration is necessary and restores staffing levels that were cut 10 years ago.The moves that we have made have been good for this community, Jones said.However, one highly vocal school district watchdog who routinely attends board meeting, Scott Hornung of Oak Harbor, has a different view of the newly adopted budget.It overestimates student count, Hornung said. It may underestimate costs. Most likely, it overestimates revenue. However, it is too late to change and they have to get a budget approved by August 31; therefore, they had to approve this budget and will change it on the fly. At least that analysis would have saved a lot of inconsistent board rhetoric and would have been consistent with the superintendent's comments. "