Enrollment shortfalls creating funding pinch

Some school officials are citing a lack of affordable housing for declining enrollment in the region, which is affecting district budgets.

The number of full-time students is lower than predicted for the Coupeville, South Whidbey and Oak Harbor school districts. The state allocates funding based on enrollment, which leaves the schools with less money than they budgeted for.

Coupeville Superintendent Steve King said the low availability of affordable housing in the area is likely a major factor in his district’s slowly declining enrollment.

Oak Harbor Public Schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon said availability and pricing of housing “has been discussed” as a factor in the lower-than-expected numbers for his district as well.

For Oak Harbor, enrollment is usually strongly correlated with naval base population, which is why the numbers “came as a surprise,” Gibbon said.

“We suspect more families, especially military-connected, are choosing to live in the Skagit Valley and commute to work on base,” he said.

He indicated this may also be related to more job opportunities in that area for military spouses.

Oak Harbor Public Schools has approximately 120 fewer full-time students than it budgeted for, which means about $1.3 million less revenue than projected.

District officials said contingency funding helped offset the unexpected changes.

District leadership decided not to fill four full-time certificated teaching positions and one full-time classified position because of the lower numbers. Additionally, a boiler replacement at the district office was delayed and small reductions were made in certain department budgets to help offset the impact.

In a statement, Gibbon said the cuts “were made in a way to minimize any impact on student services and classroom instruction.”

Coupeville budgeted for 921 full-time equivalent students, but the average between September and January is 896.7 FTE students.

Coupeville schools Budget Manager Denise Peet said she projects a reduction of approximately $272,000 in funds as a result, all of which will have to be taken out of district reserves.

During a school board meeting Monday, Peet told board members they will need to evaluate ways to reduce the budget because drawing from reserves isn’t sustainable.

She did say there was enough capacity within the current budget to maintain teacher salary increases that had been negotiated last August.

South Whidbey schools are expecting about $300,000 less in revenue for the current fiscal year. Assistant Superintendent Dan Poolman said the district budgeted for 1,296 full-time students and is now predicting an average of around 1,265 for the year.

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