Budget gap nears $1.4 million for Bainbridge schools

The Bainbridge Island School District is facing a shortfall of nearly $1.4 million and a new round of staffing cuts as it enters another daunting budget year.

Declining student enrollment — and the dwindling state dollars that go with it — is the primary reason for the budget gap.

The district built its 2011-12 budget with the expectation that 3,709 students would attend Bainbridge classes. At the start of the year, the estimate was off by 27 students.

The estimated enrollment drop has now grown to 100, which means a budget hit of $520,000.

Other factors: A drop in state contributions for special education and other programs, and reduced federal funding, plus increased pension, insurance, unemployment and other costs.

District Superintendent Faith Chapel presented a broad outline of the budget gap to the school board at its meeting last week, and noted the district’s enrollment had “bucked the trend” that other districts in Kitsap County have faced in recent years.

No longer. With a budget gap seemingly certain for the coming school year, district officials have started discussions of cutting jobs and programs across all grade levels.

“Certainly, as we have a reduction in the number of students, we also have to have a parallel reduction in staffing,” Chapel said.

Tight budgets have been common in recent years, and the district has cut teaching and classified staff positions, administration jobs, and specialist and support staff such as elementary school librarians. Athletic fees have also been raised, transportation services have been reduced, and all employees have seen cuts in compensation.

The situation would have been worse this school year, if not for the generosity of the Bainbridge Schools Foundation, which has pledged to donate a million dollars to cover teachers’ salaries, training and other programs and has already given many hundreds of thousands to the district in recent months.

According to the most recent update on the district’s 2012-13 general fund, presented last week, district officials said the budget gap may drop to $800,000 if the foundation makes a $650,000 pledge to Bainbridge schools for the upcoming school year.

Chapel said foundation officials were well aware of the district’s financial situation.

“They are currently in the process of looking at their budget,” she said.

School Board President Patty Fielding said that regardless of the money that’s raised by the foundation, the district must make sure staffing fits with the number of children in the district’s classrooms.

“Right-sizing is staffing to the enrollment and the program offerings is really critical,” Fielding said.

“We are going to preserve and keep as many resources in the classroom,” Chapel agreed.

“Again, it doesn’t mean that we can have the same number of teachers if we have 150 fewer kids. Certainly we have to keep right-sizing,” she said.

The District Budget Advisory Committee has been reviewing information on budget changes that date back to 2009, and are continuing their discussions on possible budget reduction strategies.

Some of that work involves aligning staff resources with enrollment in kindergarten through sixth-grade programs for music, art and physical education.

Special education at all grade levels is also being reviewed.

Other possible strategies include cutting specific sports in grades seven through 12, eliminating the athletic program in the seventh and eighth grades, and cutting the athletic director position at the high school.

Other reductions also include cutting the positions for school librarians, custodial staffing reductions, and classified staff such as para-educators and office staff.

As budget talks continue, a main priority for the district will be to focus its resources on programs and services that support student learning.

That said, budgeting for the upcoming school year is still in its early stages.

The school board is expected to review projections for its certificated staff later this month, and the budget advisory committee will review budget priorities and budget reduction alternatives in mid-May.

A public presentation by the committee on the budget reductions before the school board has been penciled in for May 17, and the committee’s recommendations should be finalized by June 5.

The preliminary budget is expected to be presented to the public at the school board meeting on June 28.


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