SK school district faces budget cuts

The South Kitsap School District likely will start the 2006-07 school year with fewer staff and less reserve money when the board finally approves more than $1 million in cuts for the fourth straight year.

District officials have been forced to reduce the budget by $4.25 million over the past three years, in part because of cuts in state education funding.

Terri L. Patton, assistant superintendent of business and support services, reviewed the proposed budget for school board members at the June 21 meeting. The public can begin reviewing the budget on July 10, and the board will vote on a final budget at the Aug. 16 meeting.

The cuts come as the district gears up for a potential $117 million bond to pay for a new high school and upgrades to local schools.

Patton said the school district has kept up with the cuts by reducing staff positions, reducing or eliminating many expenditures from the district’s levy plan and by dipping into its $2-$3 million annual reserve.

“Many of our funding sources are restricted by the state or the federal government, but the property taxes we collect to support the levy plan are not, so we have been forced to adjust our levy plan almost every year,” Patton said.

The 2006-07 school year is the first year of full implementation of the most recent South Kitsap School District Four-Year Replacement Levy Plan, approved by voters in February 2005.

In addition to the property taxes collected to support the levy, the plan is also supported by state “matching” revenue, or “equalization” funds, Patton said.

South Kitsap has historically qualified for the state support because assessed property values have been less than the state average.

“But with the recent land speculation and resulting growth in property values in this area, we now qualify for less state support than we had predicted,” Patton said.

According to Kitsap County Assessor Jim Avery, South Kitsap residents last year were paying $3.16 per $1,000 as opposed to Bremerton paying $4.58, Central Kitsap paying $5.03 and North Kitsap paying $4.29. The levy rate for 2006 is about $2.50, or 15 cents less than first projected.

In passing the 2006-2009 levy, the district slated 67 percent of the funds for schools and instruction and 7 percent on community relations.

The remaining money is for transportation, computers and building maintenance.

The school district estimates the levy monies collected over the four years at $62.8 million, $53.6 million of which comes from taxpayers and $9.2 million in funds matched by the state.

The school district’s annual budget is $82.9 million, with 72 percent of its funding coming from the state.

The district’s levy also pays for more than 100 staff positions, including 31 teachers, but the downside is that it does not allow for cost-of-living allowance increases, Patton said.

Each time the state approves COLA increases for those staff, state funding cuts force the district to use reserve funds to pay salary and benefits increases.

“It’s frustrating,” said board member Robert Bunker. “I’m glad we’re at least meeting our basic goals. But some of the money we could use to improve what we believe are desirable programs, like full-day kindergarten, aren’t being funded because we have to use funds elsewhere where we have shortcomings.”

Patton also highlighted for the board another factor affecting the budget — rising inflation on fixed costs like fuel, utilities, insurance and data processing.

“About $430,000 of the $1.1 million (in cuts) is attributable to inflation on fixed costs — costs we have no control over but which are essential to our operation,” Patton said.

Despite the cuts, the district does plan to add several new positions and for the first time in three years officials do not have to eliminate positions, Patton said.

Among the new additions and programs are:

• Adding 2.2 full-time counselors so each elementary school will have a full-time interventionist on staff. (Currently some interventionists serve more than one school).

•Â Adding sufficient classroom assistant staff to provide an extended kindergarten for each elementary school. (Currently only two elementary schools have extended day programs). Some morning children will stay an additional hour and some afternoon children will come one hour early for the program.

•Â Using new funding from the state to assist 10th grade students in passing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). The new funding is called Promoting Academic Success. South Kitsap will use it to hire tutors and to provide summer school programs targeted at juniors and seniors.

Patton said district officials also are predicting another modest decline in enrollment by 0.5 percent, and will adjust staffing to the enrollment forecast.

“We hope that prediction is conservative enough,” she said. “Last year we were not conservative enough and, as a result, were over-staffed all last year which did not help our financial situation.”

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