School district to cut budget by 10%

The South Whidbey School District must make significant budget cuts over the next two years.

Faced with a revenue shortage, the South Whidbey School District must make significant budget cuts over the next two years that will ultimately have an impact on staff.

The district is currently aiming to reduce its total budget for the 2023-2024 school year by 10.4%, which amounts to about $2.4 million dollars.

Dan Poolman, the district’s assistant superintendent, presented this grave news to the school board during its regular meeting in April. A combination of declining enrollment, inflation and loss of federal and state funds have contributed to the budget shortfall.

Salaries and employee benefits make up 87% of the district’s budget. Poolman explained that within the last six years, salaries have increased by 41% while state and local levy funds have only increased by 14%.

The budget cuts could potentially impact 11 district employees, which includes three certificated staff and eight classified staff.

Certificated staff includes teachers and administrators, while classified staff refers to secretaries, janitors, bus drivers and health service assistants, among other positions.

Superintendent Jo Moccia said in an email to The Record that some staff will be reduced by attrition, such as retirements or resignations, while others won’t return because they are serving temporary contracts just for this school year that won’t be renewed. The closure of the elementary school’s south campus and the relocation of fifth and sixth grades will also affect staffing levels, although the reconfiguration of campuses will save the district an estimated $336,956 annually. There will also be some furloughs and reduction in hours for some employees.

Poolman explained in an email that two teachers will potentially be laid off, unless another teacher plans to retire, in which case it might only be one.

As both Poolman and Moccia pointed out during the board meeting, the South Whidbey School District’s position is not unique; many other school districts in the state are also making budget cuts, including the two other districts on the island.

“Mukilteo, right across the water, their budget cut is more than our budget is,” Moccia said. “So this is a devastating situation across the state. But I just wanted to be really clear that it wasn’t without a fight, without pointing it out, without discussing it, without lobbying the individual legislators that made these decisions.”

The reconfiguration of campuses is expected to save the district money, as well as starting and ending the middle and high schools at the same time, which will begin this fall. This decision will allow for a single bus run to and from school, which saves in driver hours.

The district’s budget remains a work in progress, Moccia said, and will be finalized in July.