UPDATE | Carryover funds may be tapped to help fill budget gap

Bainbridge school officials will consider shifting $250,000 from the school district’s fund balance at the end of this school year to help offset a $1.8 million hole in next year’s budget.

District Superintendent Faith Chapel will give an update of the budget at this week’s school board meeting and seek consensus from the board on the shift of money from the district’s carryover funds.

“At this point in time we feel pretty comfortable that we can apply that amount, and that helps to offset some of the budget reductions we would need to make,” Chapel said.

Last month, the school board was briefed on a preliminary budget gap of $1.4 million, largely due to reduced state and federal funding and an expected enrollment drop of approximately 100 students.

Overall, increased costs and reductions in revenue totaled more than $1.7 million, though district officials estimated the budget gap could be trimmed to $1.4 million if 4.4 teacher jobs were cut.

The numbers have changed a bit since the school board’s last meeting, in ways both good and bad.

In a memo sent to the board late last week, Chapel said federal and state funding for special education will drop because the number of students who qualify for funding has declined.

The drop in state funding for special education, and federal Title I funding, is expected to total $198,300.

The loss in funding due to declining enrollment is estimated at $520,000.

Last month, district officials said classroom staffing in next year’s budget could be cut by $374,000 — the equivalent of 4.4 full-time teaching positions — to help close the budget gap.

The budget gap could also be lessened if the Bainbridge Schools Foundation makes a similar pledge to the one made for this school year, of $650,000. That would cut the budget gap to $800,300.

The size of the budget gap, and the reductions that may be needed to bridge the divide, have changed in recent weeks.

District officials now estimate that $628,500 in staffing cuts to the teaching ranks must be cut, as well as $45,000 in reductions to special education staffing.

Officials are also looking at $50,000 in cuts to transportation staffing.

If $250,000 in carryover funds are applied to next year’s budget, and increased staffing cuts are also made, the budget gap for next year stands at $884,500.

If the Bainbridge Schools Foundation comes through with a $650,000 pledge, the budget gap is estimated at $234,500.

Additional budget strategies are expected to be presented at this week’s school board meeting.

The school district has an operating budget of $36 million.

District officials currently anticipate a cash balance of $2 million at the end of the fiscal year.

Given the uncertainty of state support in prior years, Chapel said the district has positioned itself for unanticipated hits to its budget.

“Over the last couple of years we have tried to look forward and plan strategically to have enough reserves ... so we could address any shortfalls that come through state budget cuts,” she said.

It’s proved to be needed in prior years when substantial cuts were made in Olympia.

“If we had not had a reasonable fund balance, we would have been in a very difficult situation,” she said.

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