SKSD faces another budget crunch

Terri Patton referred to it as the most challenging budget of her 25-year career.

That was six months ago.

During Wednesday’s school board meeting, the South Kitsap School District’s assistant superintendent for business and support said the budget for the 2010-11 school year might be even more difficult than this year’s.

Patton and her staff were tasked with closing a $6.8 million budget deficit for 2009-10. She projects the deficit to reach $6 million to $7 million for the upcoming school year.

The bulk of the projected deficit comes from Gov. Christine Gregoire’s budget presented in December. Patton said the budget would decrease funding for kindergarten through fourth-grade enhancement ($1.3 million), levy equalization ($1.65 million), Initiative 728 ($1.6 million), Learning Improvement Day ($156,000), gifted/highly capable ($90,000) and career and technical training in junior highs ($83,000). That equals $4,879,000 in potential revenue shortfalls. Both the enhancement and I-728 funds are targeted toward reducing class sizes.

Another $1 million is earmarked for facilities projects, pay increases for classified and administrative employees and other items.

Now, district officials must determine how to close the latest deficit. Superintendent Dave LaRose said last year’s crunch gave them “a good opportunity to establish priorities.”

Last year, SKSD had enough attrition that it was able to avoid laying off nurses, teachers and custodial staff. It also did not have reductions in arts, athletics and music.

But there are no promises this time.

“The ultimate goal is to protect kids and those serving kids,” LaRose said. “Unfortunately, now everything is on the table.”

Patton said there has been discussion at the Capitol about allowing districts to run a supplemental levy.

“It would be a hard sell in this community,” she said, referring to past SKSD levy failures.

School board president Kathryn Simpson also came out against the idea.

“Levies were intended for enrichment, not basic education,” she said.

LaRose referred to the budget as a “moving target.” Because the state budget has not been finalized, there could be fewer or more cuts when it is completed.

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