South Kitsap School District officials eye energy upgrades

South Kitsap School District officials have been charged with closing multi-million dollar budget deficits the last few years.

But unlike a year ago, when district assistant superintendent for business and support Terri Patton and her staff had to account for the loss of Initiative 728, the class-size initiative approved by voters in 2000, in addition to cuts in transportation funding and a math-science grant, she has better numbers to report now.

Last week, the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction listed 22 school districts that were awarded $14.5 million for various construction projects. SKSD is among them, and Patton said its share is $785,000. That is in addition to a $500,000 energy grant the state previously awarded the district.

SKSD director of facilities and operations Tom O’Brien said the district plans to have $1.7 million worth of work done, including replacing the “1975 heat pumps” in several schools, installing occupancy sensors in gyms that turn out lights when no one is present, and adding florescent lights in gyms and energy-saving bulbs in parking lots.

He said new heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems will be installed at Burley Glenwood and the original building at Manchester Elementary schools and the Explorer Academy, while the units at Sunnyslope Elementary and South Kitsap High School will be upgraded.

O’Brien said SKSD also will receive a $257,000 energy grant from Puget Sound Energy.

Combining the two grants still leaves SKSD with a $658,000 shortfall to complete those projects, but O’Brien said the district will borrow that money through a 10-year loan. He said because the energy savings are guaranteed — he referred to it as “performance contracting” — the district will use its savings to pay down the loan each year. Even after that, he projects the district will net $13,000 a year in savings.

O’Brien said the district has experience with similar types of borrowing to get instant energy savings. He cited the heater installation at the district pool in 2000, which he said saved the district $93,000 per year. SKSD received an energy grant in 1999 and used that in addition to borrowed money to finish the pool and other projects.

Patton said those savings allow the district to concentrate on other needs as it cuts expenses. She estimated a $5.8 million deficit during the May 26 school-board meeting, but said her staff identified $6.2 million in budget savings, reductions and efficiencies.

Some of those included levy items such as $250,000 allocated to computer upgrades and video surveillance systems. Some other large reductions noted are a reorganization of special-education programs ($100,000), curriculum-adoption reduction ($100,000), elimination of facility projects ($140,000) and transportation fuel savings ($100,000).

“They’re not considered high priority enough,” said Patton, referring to the video surveillance. “We had to rob — for lack of a better word — from the levy plan to fill our budget gaps. We may have to do that for the next couple of years.”

While the budget will not be adopted by the school board until Aug. 18, Patton said work on the 2011-12 plan already has begun. She said the state’s financial situation makes it difficult to project the amount the district’s potential deficit will be during that school year.

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