New South Kitsap superintendent looks ahead to budget concerns

Incoming South Kitsap School District Superintendent Dave LaRose envisioned a transitional year where he would work “hand in hand” with Bev Cheney.

Cheney, SKSD’s superintendent since 2001, announced June 13 that she changed her retirement date from next year to June 30.

The motion was formally approved by the school board Wednesday night.

LaRose, 42, who has served as assistant superintendent for school and family support the last two years, said he looked forward to that “one-on-one mentoring,” but still will be able to collaborate with Cheney in the future.

Cheney, who turns 59 next month, will continue to live with her husband, Don, in the South Kitsap-area.

“With the relationship I have with Bev, that will be able to continue,” LaRose said. “She’ll still continue to be a part of the community. As much as she’s willing to be involved, we’ll have her involved.”

Cheney said last week her decision to retire early — aside from the ability to spend more time with her family — was related to the controversy created by the school board’s decision to appoint LaRose.

Some felt the process moved too quickly; others didn’t like that he was the only candidate presented.

“There seems to be some division,” she said. “There needs to be some bridge-building, and Dave is the only one who can do that.”

Both Cheney and LaRose felt that there might be confusion about who’s making the decisions if both remained in their current positions this fall.

“This decision obviously has put those questions to rest,” LaRose said. “Let’s prepare to do the work that lies ahead. I think that’s also what mends those fences and builds those bridges back.”

The latter point was a reference to SKSD’s 2008-09 budget.

Terri Patton, assistant superintendent for business and support services, projects a $2.9 million deficit for the next school year. She said that is based on labor costs, declining enrollment, pension-rates increases, inflation and increasing property taxes in the area, which affects how the state contributes.

Patton said this will be the first “big impact” the schools have felt from a budget standpoint since the levy failed in 2000.

She proposed the district reduce expenses, including a 10 percent cut in each school’s operating budget.

Patton’s proposal also called for using $250,000 in the district’s emergency contingency fund. She also said there was a $1 million excess in unreserved, undesignated fund balance that can be applied.

She said the district might have to consider revisions to the levy measure later this year and fears the budget scenario won’t improve in the 2009-10 school year.

By then, Patton said the district will likely have to consider further cuts, such as staff members and a reduction of school bus routes.

Patton targeted July 10 to publish a tentative budget and Aug. 20 to adopt one for the upcoming school year.

She also wants to plan budgets for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, which include staffing reductions, by March 1, 2009.

LaRose said he will communicate with district employees about the budget challenges in the upcoming year, including the cuts, and those that might follow the next year, as soon as the school year begins.

He thinks that will allow SKSD to begin resolving some of the trust issues within the district and community.

“We’re going to share in this,” he said. “This is like family budgeting. It costs more to live now.”

That might even affect LaRose directly. He still isn’t sure how his current position will be filled.

It might be eliminated, reclassified or filled. In the first two scenarios, LaRose said he might carry some of those duties as superintendent with other administrators taking the rest.

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