Axe falls for staff at Bainbridge schools

The reality of looming budget cuts was hitting home this week, as fourth graders trooped to IslandWood for what may have been the final overnight outdoor education session for Bainbridge public elementary students.

“There’s just something about going away with your class before you go to Sakai (Intermediate School),” said Wilkes Parent Teacher Organization President Erin Jennings, who came to the school board Thursday night looking for ways of continuing the program, slated to be cut in favor of a day program.

“It’s kind of like a rite of passage,” another parent of a fourth grader said.

The $30,000 outdoor education program, a tradition for island fourth graders, is one of several programs set to be purged from the Bainbridge Island School District’s list of expenditures.

The district is facing a $1.5 million projected shortfall for 2008-2009.

According to the district, roughly half of that shortfall derives from a loss of $360,000 in state funds because of declining enrollment and the need to balance the budget for the first time in four years, which will mean $400,000 in cuts. Meanwhile, fuel, insurance, and staffing costs have risen while contributions from the Bainbridge Schools Foundation are expected to be lower than previous years.

In advance of the release of a preliminary budget on June 11, Superintendent Ken Crawford presented the board Thursday with a list of cuts and potential new revenue streams, developed by the district’s Budget Advisory Committee.

The most dramatic cuts will be in staffing, Crawford said.

To bring staff in line with sagging enrollment, 7.5 full time equivalent certificated positions will be removed. All are expected to be absorbed by retirements and leaves of absence, except for two Bainbridge High School language arts teachers being released.

Two full-time teaching positions will be eliminated at Sakai Intermediate School. Commodore Options School will lose a teaching position and the equivalent of 1.5 full time special education positions. Woodward Middle School will have a drop in teaching hours equivalent to .8 of a full-time position.

There will be a minimal net staff loss for elementary schools as two teachers are added in response to what is expected to be a large crop of kindergartners, though one first-through-fourth grade teaching position will be cut.

According to Crawford, the cuts will not hurt student to teacher ratios.

“Basically we’ll have the same size classes we’ve had and have tried to maintain,” he said.

Beyond certificated staff, classified staff hours equivalent to 3.5 full-time positions will be erased. Those hour cuts will be spread over more than 20 positions ranging from secretaries, to cooks and maintenance staff. The special education program will be especially hard hit, losing 2.64 full-time positions.

Beyond staffing, the district will trim expenditures in at least 11 other areas.

It expects to save $100,000 by no longer participating in “183rd day,” a training day for teachers, which is no longer funded by the state. Instead, the district will look for grant funds to pay for equivalent training.

Bus routes will be consolidating and the amount of time students spend on the bus will be increased slightly. Combined with an awareness campaign to promote morning ridership, the district expects another $75,000 in savings from the changes.

Smaller amounts will be shaved by cutting back after-school activities, eliminating class advisors at BHS, cutting film formats from the district’s media contract in favor of streaming video and using alcohol and drug prevention grant money to help pay for the high school nurse.

The district will also soften the deficit through fee increases, grants and policy tweaks, projected to increase revenue by $312,000.

It anticipates that the future artificial turf field and the commons room of the high school’s new 200 building will fetch $10,000 in user fees annually.

Bainbridge High School parking permits will be boosted to a dollar a day, and meal prices will be raised to cover indirect food services costs like lunchroom supervision, insurance and administrative support.

The district expects money from Safety Net Grants, which help pay for special education programs, to increase by $125,000.

Home school students enrolled part time at Commodore Options School will be required to register as at least 30 percent of full time, which will increase state funding.

With staff and program cuts and increased revenue, Crawford said he was confident he would bring the board a plan for a balanced budget in June.

Board members complimented staff on the budgeting process. Board Member Dave Pollock said he would still like to see a leaner contingency budget drafted in case the district is surprised by another enrollment drop.

“We should have a plan for what we pull the trigger on,” Pollock said.

Parents who came on behalf of the outdoor education program left with some measure of optimism that the district would support a private effort to continue the annual trips, even if it would offer no funds. They plan to meet with principals and hope to begin a private fundraising effort.

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