Oak Harbor school budget process opened up

Oak Harbor school leaders are taking steps to make sure there’s an open process in developing the 2010-2011 district budget.

Superintendent Rick Schulte announced during Monday’s board meeting that a series of board workshops will take place over the next 12 weeks to start preparing for potential funding reductions in order to balance the budget for the 2010-2011 school year. Those board workshops will be open to the public.

“Public participation will be encouraged,” school board member Peter Hunt said Monday night.

An early draft of the governor’s budget shows the Oak Harbor School District could lose $2.2 million in funding. The school district’s current budget is approximately $47 million. The money would be lost through the proposed elimination of several programs. This includes one that reduces class size in early grades, I-728 dollars and the state levy match.

Schulte said there are still a lot of unknowns about the upcoming budget. The situation could range from “pretty bad” to “OK.”

He proposed the board workshops for two reasons. Budget committees in previous years have been heavily represented by administrators and union delegates, but not too many people from the community have been involved.

“We will have better community representation if the entire school board is part of this process,” Schulte said.

In previous years, the budget committee, where two school board members would participate, would make its recommendations and then the school board would hold separate workshops. Schulte said it was difficult trying to communicate the committee work to board members. He said he wanted to unify the process.

The school district has had a lot of experience making budget reductions. Enrollment, which is the basis for state funding, had dropped for years, resulting in the closure of one elementary school.

It looks like enrollment won’t be an issue for the school district for the upcoming budget. Schulte said enrollment is 160 students greater than the amount officials budgeted for, and 70 students more than attended last year.

Schulte said it’s too early to make an enrollment prediction for the coming school year.

Should the school district have to cut positions, Schulte said he hopes that decision will be made by mid-April because the master schedule at the middle schools and high school needs to be developed. The school district is required to announce any layoffs to union positions by May 15.

The budget meetings will start Tuesday, Jan. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the school district administration building. They will take place every other Tuesday until early April.

Schulte said that summaries of each budget workshop will be emailed to stakeholders following the meetings.

He added that the budget process will be used each year for the next three to five years.

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