SKSD scrambles to close $2.1 million shortfall

There were no dreaded pink slips handed out to South Kitsap School District teachers this year, but there wasn’t a lot of good news to hand out, either, as district administrators started to spread the pain of a $2.1 million budget shortfall at the school board meeting Monday night in the wake of the state’s new 2003-2005 budget approved last week.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Terri Patton said reductions in state funding total $1.5 million, including $779,771 from the state’s suspension of I-732, the 2000 measure assuring annual cost-of-living allowances to school workers.

The state budget does provide $114,066 for an increase in the salaries of beginning teachers, which translates into a salary boost of up to 3 percent for teachers in their first seven years on the job, affecting about 200 of the SKSD’s more than 600 certificated staffers.

On top of the revenue reductions, Patton said the district is also facing a $503,609 increase in fixed costs, such as hikes in fuel prices, utility rates and liability insurance rates, which she said had increased 15 to 18 percent since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“It seems to be a runaway train,” Patton said, explaining that the district will also have to make up for the rise in gas prices not accounted for in the last school budget.

Other notable state cuts include $228,000 for the flexible education funds, from which the district currently uses $99,000 to retain safety officers from the Port Orchard Police Department and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department for its high school and junior highs.

The remainder is used to purchase instructional materials and provide gifted program support.

The final losses the district is expecting include a $103,804 reduction in federal impact aid, and $46,061 less in local levy tax collection as many property owners are expected to not be able to pay their next tax bill.

Patton said district administrators will be working in the next several weeks to fill the gaps, whether through staff reductions, modifying the levy plan or “rob(bing) the piggy bank.”

“This will be a huge change for our school district,” Patton said. “We’ve been working on it for months and we still don’t have the answers.”

The first step in creating a new budget is already complete, as the Budget Advisory Committee presented its recommendations for possible cuts to the school board Monday night.

Once the superintendent presents her budget recommendation July 7, the district plans to present a preliminary budget to the school board Aug. 4, and a final version Aug. 18.

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