Oak Harbor schools to cut budget by 5%

Oak Harbor Public Schools is facing more bad news on the horizon.

Shortly after the failure of a bond measure to receive a supermajority from voters, Oak Harbor Public Schools is facing more bad news on the horizon.

Superintendent Michelle Kuss-Cybula announced at Monday’s school board meeting that about 5% of the district’s overall budget will be reduced in the next couple of months. It’s a challenge facing many other school districts in Washington.

She explained that the Oak Harbor district has been relying on money from two pandemic-era federal programs. The CARES Act was an economic stimulus program and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund provided emergency dollars to schools.

The district used the federal money for things that staff initially considered temporary but now see as vital, such as mental health services, social workers and school nurses, Kuss-Cybula said, and added that the district could use even more mental health counselors than it currently has.

Along with that, she said there were other demands on the budget that the district hadn’t faced in many years, including an increase in the needs of special education and services like food and transportation.

“We have a lot of contributing factors compounding our need for reduction,” she said, adding that the Washington state legislature is still in session so the future of school funding is still to be determined.

When making cuts, Kuss-Cybula said, the district will attempt to preserve items that directly affect student learning and make data-informed decisions.

She said there will be substantial reductions in the budget through normal staff attrition from military families moving away, resignations and retirements. She said the district will have to look “differently” at staffing and programs that may need to be put on pause.

Kuss-Cybula also discussed the results of the Feb. 14 election and said the district will continue to pursue the Department of Defense funding that would cover 80% of the costs to rebuild two schools.

Only 391 additional “yes” votes were needed to pass the measure. The 55% of voters who cast ballots in favor of the measure was a significant increase from a larger bond that was on the ballot a year ago and received less than 45% approval.

Kuss-Cybula said that in the future, she would like to put together a bond committee to “provide an opportunity for people in our community to come together as a task force to really research the best options for our school district.”