News

Schools get windfall

Imagine opening your checkbook one morning and finding you were $617,000 richer.

That’s basically what Oak Harbor School District found out this week, when their General Fund received an electronic transfer of $617,000 with no documentation attached.

Turns out it wasn’t a gift from an anonymous angel, just a larger-than-expected Federal Impact Aid payment for the 2002-03 school year.

At Monday’s school board meeting the board will discuss what to do with the money. There is a high possibility the money will set in motion a way to replace the approximately $1 million the board has been struggling to cut from the 2003-04 budget, according to Schools Superintendent Rick Schulte, but the teacher’s union has some suggestions as well.

“Given the short time frame before our budget must be completed and adopted, the most practical thing to do at this time is to proceed with restoring some of the planned cuts,” Schulte advises in the board bulletin for Monday’s meeting.

At the meeting he will explain why Impact Aid award was so large, and how it would best be used in the coming budget.

Peter Szalai, Oak Harbor Education Association co-president, will attend the meeting to offer the teachers’ union’s suggestions on how to spend the money.

“As a teachers’ association we have our priorities,” he said Thursday.

He feels the district needs to do a better job of taking care of its employees.

The teachers’ association is currently in contract negotiations with the school district, even though they are at the beginning of a three-year contract.

The contract was “reopened” because teachers wants to be compensated for more time outside the classroom, called TRI days, and the district wants to change how teachers are evaluated.

While the district now funds eight supplemental days, OHEA would like to see the district fund 18.

“We believe the district has not made improving teacher compensation a priority,” Peter Szalai, Oak Harbor Education Association co-president said by e-mail. “With rising health care costs and the suspension of cost-of-living adjustments, teachers will experience less real take-home pay next year.”

He said the additional compensation partially reimburses teachers for the hours they put in on weekends, vacations and before and after school. The money would help pay for required on-going professional training, out-of-pocket health care expenses, college loans or simply to buy groceries.

Szalai questioned what he sees as a pattern with the school district of casting dire predictions during budget negotiations, then suddenly finding the money.

“The association finds it interesting that there seems to be a pattern of raising anxiety about budget shortfalls during bargaining, and (then) gloomy predictions not coming true,” he said. “We feel the anxiety is being raised to lower expectations.”

The school district and the OHEA have three bargaining sessions set for August, the same month the budget must be finalized.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” Szalai said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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