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SKSD’s budget woes aren’t unique

One key message South Kitsap School District Assistant Superintendent Terri Patton gave to the school board when she announced the $1.9 million deficit was that they were not alone.

“It feels like a train wreck, maybe more this year than other years,” she said, adding, “We’re also hearing this from other districts.”

SKSD may be struggling to fill a $1.9 million hole in its 2008-09 school year budget, but many other districts are in the same boat.

On the same night South Kitsap heard from Patton about its financial woes, the Bremerton School District was taking public testimony on how residents feel its budget problems should be handled.

Bremerton, which has a $50 million budget compared to South Kitsap’s $90 million, is facing a $1.33 million shortfall this year.

Heading south, the Peninsula School District situated in Gig Harbor is fairing better, but officials there said they made major cuts one year ago that are holding stronger now.

“I think that our hope for this coming budget adoptions is that we’re going to be able to maintain what we’ve done,” Budget Analyst Vicki Smith said Monday.

Nathan Olson from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) said those on the state level are aware of the state-wide trend, and have been researching a solution.

“In short, we’ve definitely observed that,” he said.

He said rising costs and local reliance on levy funds are closely related to the problem.

Cost of living adjustments (COLAs) are funded by the state for state-funded teachers, but schools are relying more on funds from local levies and Initiative 728 to pay teachers and must pay for those increases elsewhere.

“That put an additional burden on the school districts,” Olson said.

In South Kitsap this is yet another year in a long run of budget cuts, and Patton worries that this year’s cuts could involve personnel loss.

“I think we’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit we can find,” she said.

The district was able to keep the deficit down in part from its unreserve fund, which typically maintains 3 percent savings of the whole budget. The district had quite a bit more — around 5 percent — and was able to divert $1 million this year from those funds, bringing a $2.9 million deficit down to $1.9 million.

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