Schulte: No more job cuts in Oak Harbor schools

Across the state, school districts are bracing for the worst.

The Washington Education Association fears districts could cut as many as 2,000 to 4,000 teachers statewide.

With these gloomy economic times, Superintendent Rick Schulte made a startling announcement this week.

“I will not be recommending any layoffs for the next school year,” Schulte said, in a press release. “That’s the bottom line.”

He added that the district has the budgeting flexibility to make this a two-year commitment to full employment, if all goes well.

The decision came after Schulte reviewed the House and Senate budget proposals, which included an addition of stimulus money, and the year’s ending fund balance. The two-year commitment is not guaranteed, but it should be achievable if financial assumptions bear out.

The news came as a relief to school board members Monday night, after two years of painful cuts totaling $4.5 million. Eight different scenarios were prepared for layoffs, depending on the severity of the budgeting possibilities. Schulte said the worst-case scenario was a loss of 20 certificated staff.

“It’s a good feeling not to do the RIF’s because we’ve done so many,” school board member Gary Wallin said, referring to ‘reductions in force’ actions. “It’s tough feeling like the little guy out there.”

Teachers with temporary contracts and support personnel in temporary positions will still face the end of those jobs. But with federal stimulus money and the recently approved local levy, several new positions will open up to replace temporary positions.

In the state House and Senate budget proposals, each shows a substantial reduction in school funding. School districts with decreasing enrollment will face even heavier cuts.

For Oak Harbor, the impact is an expected loss of $1.5 million a year. Higher personnel costs will add about $500,000 to the district’s expenses.

However, Schulte said the district has the resources to make up for this $2 million paper shortfall.

“We’ve gone through two years of cuts already, so we were ahead of the curve. We acted proactively and we did it without excessively drawing down our fund balance, so we have more flexibility to adjust,” Schulte said.

The district’s fund balance serves as a kind of checking account for the district, covering expenses month by month. Although it was severely depleted two years ago, this year’s ending fund balance is high, and will leave about $1 million available each year to make up for state funding reductions.

Federal Impact Aid funding, which is offered to districts with a large number of military families, should also be higher-than-normal this year, Schulte said. The increase is an expected $1.1 million.

The $1 million from Impact Aid and $1 million from the fund balance, should cover the $2 million state shortfall.

“We’ve double-checked with people in the Department of Education. They say that my estimate is in the ballpark,” Schulte said.

Schulte added that if his predictions are wrong, he will adjust the estimate a year from now. He expects he will not revisit “reductions in force” again this year.

“Good decisions combined with fortunate actions by the state and Congress have allowed us to avoid adding to the unemployment problem,” he said.

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