What to do with all that money

After months of struggling with how to cut $1 million from the 2003-04 school district budget, the Oak Harbor School Board is now faced with the dilemma of what to cut from the cut list.

Last week the district received an unexpected $617,000 Federal Impact Aid payment. As Superintendent Rick Schulte explained to the board, the payment was allocated because “230 students who had previously resided in Navy housing were no longer in Navy housing at the time of the student count date because that housing was being remodeled.” Therefore those students were not counted at the higher payment “A” level. The district applied for a change to make them “A” level students. Approval of that request resulted in the $617,000 payment.

Federal aid unpredictable

Schulte said he was told in March that Federal Impact Aid payments were done, and to not expect any additional funds, although another $300,000 was awarded following that government announcement. He said the district had a similar situation last year, when they received an additional $465,000 in July.

“Impact Aid is the great uncertainty,” he told the board.

Schulte proposed revising Impact Aid revenue projections to reflect actual revenues received in the 2002-03 school budget year, which would represent approximately a $900,000 increase in projected Impact Aid revenues compared to earlier budgets.

With this money added to the revenue stream, Schulte also proposed shifting $120,000 from the fund balance into the general fund.

“The combination of an additional $900,000 in Impact Aid revenues and spending this $120,000 in revenues allows us to add back approximately $1 million in expenditures for the 2003-04 school year, an amount equal to the $1 million we have been working for the last three months to eliminate,” Schulte explained in the school board bulletin. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Board member Kathy Jones, an accountant, said it was important for people to know that the Impact Aid money was not “found,” and that the district could not have predicted receiving it. Therefore, it had not been part of the budget process.

But now it is. School board members at Monday’s meeting were like kids in a candy store as they perused the proposed budget cuts, considering what the district would no longer have to do without. Tuesday was not the last night to make budget decisions, and the board will ask for a budget extension.

Schulte’s proposed list of items to restore include:

l High school assistant principal position

l Nine certificated elementary teachers or specialists

l Custodial positions

l School Resource Officer

l Utility costs

l Previously selected Strategic Plan activities

l Community newsletter

l Textbooks

l Building budgets

Staff, community members and the board also had suggestions on what to add back. “There are a whole lot more ideas on how to add than how to cut,” Schulte noted.

Classified staff representative Tony Silveira requested that the board not cut classified staff hours during the Monday early releases starting this fall.

Scott Hornung, who opposed the high school remodel bond earlier this year, suggested using the $617,000 in Impact Aid money to fix the high school track.

The board considered whether fees would still need to be raised for students to attend Camp Moran or play sports.

They pondered hiring teachers to fill current vacancies, and if so, how many and at what grade level?

The only definite requests were to not cut the high school’s Resource Officer and to set athletic user fees at $75 per year at the high school and $50 at the middle school.

Jones felt the board still needed to be conservative in their spending due to the unpredictability of the Impact Aid funds, while Kathy Chalfant said she would like to see the district “at least spend enough.”

“We have a habit of being over conservative,” she said.

“Prudent fiscal management requires us to be conservative,” Jones responded.

Teacher considerations

Schulte said some adjustments can be delayed, while others need to be addressed immediately.

If the board wants to hire teachers they have to do it soon. Nine positions have been cut by attrition, but hiring that many teachers could cost $540,000, Schulte said. Hiring just six would cost $310,000.

Very little time was given to discussing teacher compensation, the subject of negotiations currently underway with the Oak Harbor Teachers’ Association.

Chalfant requested the board “leave room” to look at ways of further compensating teachers. Because of the negotiations the board was unable to discuss the situation in-depth at the public meeting.

Peter Szalai, Teachers’ Association co-president, read a statement at the meeting, questioning the district’s priorities and values.

“Our district needs to make increasing teacher compensation a priority directly — through raises, locally funded cost of living allowances, or additional supplemental pay in the form of TRI days — or indirectly — through a higher contribution to help defray out-of-pocket health care costs,” he said.

After the meeting Szalai was so disappointed with the lack of attention given to teachers that he gave the school board a “D,” for “Does not care about teachers,” he said in an e-mail Tuesday.

“Except for Kathy Chalfant, school board members are insufficiently concerned about the real impact of poor pay on teachers and their families,” he said.

Schulte agreed the district had a responsibility to its employees, but he noted the dilemma of using money to hire teachers when current teachers are asking for better compensation.

“Hiring more teachers means less money for others,” he told the board. He said 82 percent of the budget goes to staffing.

Budget talks will continue at the next regular school board meeting, Aug. 12.

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