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Public meeting tonight on school district's projected $717,000 deficit

High school sports programs could be cut from the 2009-10 budget to erase a projected $717,000 deficit. - Jeff VanDerford / South Whidbey Record
High school sports programs could be cut from the 2009-10 budget to erase a projected $717,000 deficit.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / South Whidbey Record

The San Juan Island School District may reduce staff and programs beginning as early as the 2009-10 school year because of a decline in enrollment and reduction in state funding.

A special board meeting is scheduled today at 6 p.m. in the Friday Harbor High School library. The meeting will address long-range planning options needed to address an anticipated $717,200 budget shortfall. The meeting is open to the public.

Another meeting is planned on Dec. 17. Superintendent Michael Soltman said cuts could be decided by the end of January. The 2009-10 budget must be approved by June.

Possible scenarios:
— Move sixth grade to Friday Harbor Elementary School: $130,000.
— Reduce one principal: $120,000.
— Reduce two teachers, grades 7-12: $130,000.
— Return to a six-period day.
— Eliminate $180,000 in sports funding.
— Reduce custodians, secretaries, paraprofessionals: $125,000.
— Reduce supplies and materials: $32,000.

The school district could possibly eliminate all sports programs. Twelve sports are offered to high school students and are optional programs.

Electives that could be eliminated: art, music, physical education and theater. Slashing winter term would eliminate art, auto mechanics and photography.

As another cost-saving measure, the Anacortes, Lopez and San Juan school districts will share speech language pathology services.

Costs covered in this year’s budget: $5,000 in stipends for five part-time assistant high school drama coaches and a junior varsity girls basketball coach for the winter season.

Assistant drama coaches hired for a three-month term: Lisa Duke, Dan Gillespie, Kevin Porter, Melissa Martinson and Jill Urbach. Natalie Chevalier is coaching JV girls basketball.

The district is purchasing a new bus at a cost of about $86,691. The state funds a portion of transportation expenses.

Declines in enrollment, state funding
The school district’s 2008-09 budget anticipates revenues this year of $9,366,516. Some $4.5 million will come from the state based on enrollment, $1.5 million will come from the local voter-approved maintenance and operations property tax levy, $1.2 million will come from program fees and services, $1.1 million will come from the state for special programs, $700,000 will come from the federal government for special education and other programs, and $500,000 will come from the local voter-approved capital and technology levy.

The school district’s 2008-09 budget anticipates expenses this year of $9,367,976.

In spring, the school district forecast a $600,000 deficit for 2008-09 because of declining enrollment — the district receives about $5,000 per year per full-time equivalent student from the state — and a shortfall in state funding for state voter-approved pay increases for teachers.

The community raised $537,946 to erase most of that deficit and restore programs. However, since that time, the state’s economy has tanked and Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed reducing public education funding by $1 billion to help erase a projected $6 billion state budget shortfall.

“This is just a planning scenario. There could be as much as a $100,000 swing each way,” Soltman said of the San Juan School District’s budget shortfall for 2009-10. “But it could be worse.”

Soltman said the district is talking to the Orcas Island School District about ways to share services; the districts currently share a business manager, which saves San Juan about $30,000 a year.

What can islanders do?

“The first thing people need to do is understand the magnitude — how big it is, how big the challenges are,” Soltman said. “We need to put out information about costs and program options for people to chew on — what makes the most sense in terms of reductions.”

Deficit expected to grow
The district expects a budget deficit of $1,257,098 in five years.

Upcoming expense increases: Fuel and utilities, cost-of-living for teachers and staff, pensions and health benefits.

To help erase this year’s $600,000 budget shortfall, the “Save Our Schools” campaign raised $537,946. Those funds restored all teaching positions, instructional programs, sports, the Primary Intervention Program, special education assessment services and most secretarial, custodial and paraprofessional positions.

School Board Chairman Boyd Pratt warned of the future: “A magnitude of change lies ahead. We want as much public input as possible.”

A financial task force working to develop long-term funding options and study the implications of restructuring. From the community: Charlie Anderson, Cathy Cavanagh, Verne Howard, Paul LeBaron, Brent Snow, Wendy Wood. From the school district: David McCauley, Jim McNairy, Jill Peacock, Gary Pfleuger, Boyd Pratt, Ann Spratt, Ben Thomas, Michael Soltman, Fred Wood.

The school district is also participating in a lawsuit to compel the state to fulfill its “paramount duty” to provide adequate funding for basic education. A number of districts statewide have joined this lawsuit.

The Legislature is expected to address redefining “basic education” and funding in the next session. And statewide efforts to compel the Legislature to fully fund basic education is occurring through advocacy. PTA FOCUS Day is Feb. 26.

The local PTA will travel to Olympia to lobby for public education funding. To participate, call PTA President Deborah Nolan, 378-3364.

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