South Kitsap School District focused on ‘essentials’ during levy planning

Locals will notice a change in tone as South Kitsap School District crafts its maintenance and operations levy.

In 2008, district officials discussed upgrades when crafting its replacement levy.

“That time is gone,” Superintendent Dave LaRose said. “It’s about essential resources now.”

He said that stems from approximately $20 million in cuts SKSD has made during the last five years. That includes reductions in administration in addition to 23.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions that SKSD’s director of business services, Marcia Wentzel, estimated were eliminated.

LaRose said those reductions would have been far more severe without successful levies the last several years.

“We’ve been fortunate to sustain and protect services for kids because of great support from the community through the levy,” he said.

There could be more to come as SKSD financial operations officer Sandy Rotella said last week that the district faces a $1 million shortfall for the upcoming school year, but it could be less depending on how the Legislature crafts its final budget. SKSD’s budget was more than $97 million for 2011-12.

Rotella and her staff also are projecting a 1.5 percent enrollment decrease in 2012-13. The district has 9,448.49 FTE students enrolled. The projected loss of approximately 142 FTE students would cost SKSD about $710,000 next year. That is because LaRose said the state funds districts $5,000 per student.

If that forecast does not change, Rotella said the district might consider further reductions in force. She said a replacement levy would not change that scenario as the new collection rate would not begin until midway through the 2013-14 school year.

Rotella said it is too early to project how much the new rate will be. The Citizens Budget Review Committee, which she chairs, meets five more times before making its recommendation to the school board May 23. Those meetings are open to the public.

The district’s last four-year levy passed in 2009 with 57.6 percent of the vote. SKSD officials estimated in 2008 that taxpayers’ contributions would increase from $1.90 to $2.27 per $1,000 assessed valuation through the end of the last school year before it increased by one cent. According to Kitsap County Auditor records, the rate actually increased from about $2.01 to approximately $2.50 in 2010 and $2.65 last year per $1,000 assessed valuation.

Rotella said SKSD has operated at 21.8 percent of the levy lid, which is certified at $17,746,000 of 2012 property taxes. The levy base is $81,270,321, which the state allows districts to collect a maximum of 28 percent ($22,755,690). District officials long have feared that voters would reject any proposal that approached the levy lid. Voters previously rejected SKSD levies in 1997 and 2000.

“It is very early in this process,” said LaRose, when asked about the possibility of seeking more money during the next levy proposal. “We haven’t even begun to initiate that process.”

School board president Kathryn Simpson said SKSD needs to “find a balance between some of the needs and wants.”

“With the economy, we’re recognizing that a lot of folks out there are struggling,” she said. “We need to respect that as much as we can.”

LaRose, who has been in his position since 2008, said he wants to “highlight” the district’s success when the levy plan is presented to the public.

He noted that other districts have made cuts to arts and athletics, while SKSD has not. Numerous studies have shown that students who participate in extracurricular activities perform better in the classroom.

“It’s our job to connect the dots to learning,” LaRose said. “Look at the overall academic performance of our athletes and our band. There is a direct correlation to learning.”

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