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Projected enrollment decrease could result in more South Kitsap school cutbacks

There likely will be another budget deficit, but South Kitsap School District financial operations officer Sandy Rotella expects it to be less severe than in recent years.

Rotella said SKSD could face a $1 million shortfall for the upcoming school year, but it could be less depending on how the Legislature crafts its final budget, which was more than $97 million for 2011-12.

Last Friday, Republicans seized control of the state Senate to pass a budget with a 25-to-24 vote that was radically different from one proposed by the Democratic majority. The budget moves to the House, where Democrats hold a 56-42 majority.

“It definitely was a great civics class if anyone watched it,” Rotella said.

Outside of the political theater, Rotella does not foresee potential adjustments affecting the district’s bottom line too much.

“When you compare it with the last two years, it looks great,” she said.

Rotella was referring to the mid-year rescission SKSD and others experienced. In December 2010, the state House and Senate passed legislation expected to close most of Washington’s $1.1 billion budget shortfall. Those cuts — combined with previous ones by Gov. Christine Gregoire — were expected to reduce the deficit by around $700 million.

That encompassed a $50 million reduction from public schools, which included the elimination of funding to keep class sizes smaller in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Now-retired SKSD assistant superintendent for business and support Terri Patton said that was particularly difficult because the school district already had allocated those funds to hire teachers. Because of union contracts, she said the district simply could not lay off those employees. Patton estimated at the time that it cost SKSD $795,000 in 2010-11 and $950,000 for this school year.

Superintendent Dave LaRose said SKSD has made about $20 million in cuts the last five years.

Last year might have been the most significant as the district cut its directors for human resources and community relations. Some of their duties were assumed by LaRose and other administrators. In addition to those positions, Rotella assumed fewer responsibilities and salary when she replaced Patton.

But even with those reductions, SKSD director of business services Marcia Wentzel said in August that the district eliminated 23.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions, which saved nearly $1.7 million.

Rotella said there might be further cutbacks for the next school year. She said the district, which retains Greene Gasaway Architects of Federal Way to project future enrollments, expects SKSD to continue losing students next year before enrollment “flat lines” in 2013 and begins growing again four years after that.

SKSD officials projected a 2.5 percent enrollment decrease for this year and ended up with 150 more students enrolled for 2011-12 than anticipated. After hiring 6.23 FTE teachers to fulfill contracts requiring class sizes to be maintained at certain levels, the enrollment increase resulted in more than $294,000 in additional revenue for the district.

Rotella said her staff has budgeted for a 1.5 percent enrollment decrease in 2012-13. The district has 9,448.49 full-time equivalent students enrolled.

“If there’s less students, there will be less staff,” she said. “We’re hopeful those losses will come through attrition.”

To avoid further layoffs last year, SKSD’s board of directors authorized using $1.7 million out of the reserve fund to help close the deficit. Rotella said that number was reduced to $1 million through efficiencies. She said the school board temporarily reduced its designated reserve from 3 to 2.5 percent to accommodate that. She said the board’s expectation is for that money to be replenished.

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