San Juan schools need 'substantial changes' to balance budget | Michael Soltman

Dear Parents and Community Members,

As you know, the San Juan Island School District, along with most school districts in the state, is experiencing significant budget challenges due to the chronic underfunding of basic education by our state Legislature.

Since 1993, the State of Washington has fallen from 11th in the nation for per-student funding to 44th in the nation today. Several recent studies have found that the current shortfall of basic education funding is about $2.4 billion annually.

To sustain our current programs during this past 2007-08 school year, nearly $400,000 of our operating fund balance was used. We currently have a fund balance of about $350,000, which must be sustained to cover monthly cash flow needs and emergencies. Inadequate basic education funding and our pattern of declining enrollment have created significant budget shortfalls during the past two years.

To continue to sustain programs and services for this current 2008-09 school year, a “Save our Schools” campaign was created to raise nearly $540,000 over this past spring and summer. We are grateful for the five major donors who offered the $300,000 “challenge gift” that was met by $270,000 in donations from more than 485 individual donors. We are so fortunate to have a community that has the commitment and the resources to provide this unprecedented philanthropic support to our schools.

Planning for the 2009-10 fiscal year has been under way for several weeks. Our budget challenge is daunting and will likely worsen due to the economic crisis in our state and country. Due to the $5.8 billion-plus projected state budget deficit, it is unlikely that school districts will receive legislative relief during the upcoming session. Consequently, we must plan to reduce current program and service expenditures by about $717,000 for the next fiscal year — a budget reduction of about 8 percent.

This significant reduction will require that we restructure our school programs and services. Our priorities are to maintain excellence in academic programs as well as to ensure the health and safety of our students. However, we anticipate that substantial changes must be made in order to meet this budget challenge.

Clearly, difficult choices will have to be made regarding sustaining instructional programs, library services, and counseling services. Choices will also have to be made regarding co-curricular programs (athletics, clubs, drama, activities), transportation services, and maintenance and administrative services.

Currently, the staff and administration are meeting to identify potential program and services restructuring that meets our program priorities while reducing expense. Our Board of Directors and Financial Task Force are both deeply involved in the discussions and planning.

We seek your involvement and input as well. A community forum was held on Nov. 18 to provide information about our challenge and potential planning scenarios that revealed the magnitude of the problem.

Two board meetings are scheduled to discuss options for program restructuring Dec. 10 and 17, 6 p.m., in the Friday Harbor High School library meeting room. We invite your participation and thoughts in these meetings. Further, please view our Web site, www.sjisd.wednet.edu, for budget planning updates throughout the year.


Michael Soltman
Superintendent of Schools
San Juan Island School District

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