Schools expect fewer students, less money

It’s going to be tough for Oak Harbor School District officials as they sort out next year’s budget. In addition to cuts in federal Impact Aid, the school district is anticipating fewer students next year.

Early projections estimate next year’s enrollment at approximately 5,400 students, which is 250 students fewer than projections for the current school year. The enrollment decline affects funding because the state allocates basic education money on the number of student attending school.

“This will drive the next steps in our budget process,” said Superintendent Rick Schulte during a recent school board meeting.

He said it’s too early to tell whether the enrollment situation will lead to any staffing reductions.

However, he said 83 percent of the district’s $44 million budget goes to employees so staffing maybe affected.

One of the major reasons officials are projecting a decline next year is that the trend is happening this year.

Currently, 199 students have transferred out of the Oak Harbor School District but only 38 have transferred in. Most of the transfers went to Coupeville.

“We’re getting less money because we have fewer students,” Schulte said.

Schulte said parents gave him a variety of reasons for transferring their kids. Some parents want their kids attending a smaller school or want them to be closer to where they work.

One other trend is a drop in the number of military dependent students attending Oak Harbor schools.

From October 2003 to October 2004, officials counted 235 fewer students, 117 of whom lived in base housing.

American Eagle Communities, the private firm that took over Navy housing on the island, doesn’t have information prior to Feb. 1.

Kim Martin, spokesperson for the Naval Air Station, said she didn’t know what caused the decline in military dependent students.

She said the occupancy rate in housing stands at approximately 95 percent and the rate has been consistent over the past several months.

Schulte also didn’t know where the military dependent students are going.

Neighboring school districts have generally seen enrollment dips over the past five years. Coupeville is down by 10 students, South Whidbey is down 268 students and Anacortes is down 24 students.

The Oak Harbor School District has seen its enrollment reduced by 471 students over the last five years.

Even though the school district is bracing to lose 250 students next year, approximately 100 of those attend HomeConnection programs linked to the Olympic Peninsula and Lynden. Those students will be counted in their respective school districts.

Schulte estimated that the school district will lose approximately $500,000 in revenue from the low enrollment projections.

The enrollment projections aren’t the only concerns school district officials have with this year’s budget.

The school district is expecting a $500,000 decrease in f Impact Aid funding, a figure which which could go even be higher once the federal budget is determined.

The school district also has to pay more into the state retirement system next year. That is a cost that will increase every year through 2011.

With the enrollment estimates complete, the school district is going through its staff estimates as part of the continuing budget process.

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