"Facing deficit, schools making cuts"

"Faced with a million-dollar deficit for the coming year, the school district will make budget cuts that hit the salaries of administrators and classified employees.We're not in an emergency, but they're not easy, school board president Bruce Weiland said of the cutbacks.The spending cuts passed final review at a board study session Tuesday evening.District officials blamed the deficit on too-high enrollment projections and the opening of Sakai Middle School this past year.Opening Sakai required the district to hire new non-teaching support staff. The school, however, brought no additional money from the state, which bases its funding allocations on the actual number of students enrolled in a district.Approximately 80 percent of the district's $25 million annual operating budget comes from the state.During the 1996-97 school year, Bainbridge school district enrollment saw a 6.06 percent increase, a dramatic leap over the 3.21 percent rise of the previous year. District officials now project only a 2.45 percent enrollment increase in 2001-01.When we decided to build Sakai, did we think enrollment would increase enough to support it? Yes, said Michael Schroeder, business and operations administrator. But what we expected was not what happened.Sakai was built with a capacity of 675 students. Its enrollment last year was 622.Enrollment projections for the coming school year usually begin in February, when enrollment is tabulated and subjected to a set of mathematical formulas.We turn that number over to principals who modify it, Schroeder said. And by the end of April, we're locked into a budget projection. We begin building the budget in May.This year, however, projections significantly overshot the mark.We should've been on top of it, but we weren't, said District Superintendent Steve Rowley. We would've felt better had we been on top of it.Lower-than-expected enrollment is presenting problems for other districts as well, Rowley said, citing Olympia, Shoreline and others as examples.In this business, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet without cutting services, he said.Classified positions - including secretaries, groundskeepers, mechanics, library staff and others - will see the brunt of the cuts, according to a budget summary written by Rowley. Although few if any individuals will ultimately lose their jobs, there is no question that there will be negative impact due to cutbacks in classified positions, the document stated. School principals around the district agreed to a partial reduction of salary increases called for in their contracts, while administrators also agreed to a salary freeze.When we heard about the across-the-board cuts, we wanted this to be personal as well, said Bainbridge High School Principal Dave Ellick.Teacher salaries will not be affected.Bainbridge Island does not have a lot of experience with this, Schroeder said of the deficit and required cutbacks. This has been more reactive than the board likes to be.We hired new staff for Sakai, took students out of the other schools, but didn't cut any staff at those schools, he said, because we believe it is in the best interest of the students to have small schools. "

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