School district dips into its 'rainy day' fund

The South Kitsap School District’s “rainy day” fund was put to good use this year as administrators closed a $1.6 million funding shortfall with a significant chunk of budget reserves in the 2003-04 operating budget approved by the school board Monday night.

Confronting both a loss of funds and a hike in costs, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Terri Patton said she was glad to have such healthy reserves at her disposal to cover nearly a third of the gap.

“The good news is, we had some extra to get us through a rainy day,” Patton said. “Because this year is definitely a rainy day.”

Patton said $500,000 was borrowed from the district’s reserves, but the amount remaining is still within the 3 to 5 percent the board prefers to keep on hand to cover unstable cash flows and uncertainty in state funding.

A public hearing immediately followed Patton’s presentation of the $88.6 million budget, and when there were no comments from the sparse audience, the school board passed the budget unanimously.

The significant losses in funding this year included a reduction of federal impact aid and local levy tax collection, along with the suspension of I-732, the 2000 measure granting annual cost-of-living allowances for school workers, and a reduction in I-728 funds.

State funding for both Traffic Safety Education and flexible education funds — which the district uses to provide safety officers from the Port Orchard Police Department and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department for its high school and junior highs — was also eliminated.

Earlier this year the district decided to cut its driver’s ed program for the 2003-04 year, but Patton said money was re-directed from other areas of the budget to keep the safety officers in the schools.

“We will maintain exactly what we’ve had in the past,” Patton said. “It’s a high priority as far as the parents are concerned, as well as the high school and the district as a whole. It’s kind of one of those no-brainers.”

Patton said now that the budget is complete, she will be watching attendance closely — especially next year. She anticipated a nearly 1 percent decline in enrollment this year, but said kindergartners are declining more rapidly than any other age group, which may mean even lower enrollment in the future.

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