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Prudence marks school budgetWith district enrollment stagnant, officials buckle down.

A conservative approach marks the 2001-2002 district budget adopted by the Bainbridge Island School Board last week. With expenditures only $260,000 below revenues, this is a very tight budget indeed, district financial officer Peggy Paige said. There is little room for unplanned expenditures.The district projects $26.412 million in revenue for the coming year, and $26.150 million in expenditures. The budget represents an increase of 4.7 percent over last year's, down from the average 5.62 percent growth rate of the past five years.The district is taking a more conservative approach to finances overall, reflecting a growing awareness of the need to increase savings and an acknowledgement that student enrollment is likely to continue to decline.At a July meeting, the board voted to increase the unreserved funds that are the district's rainy day savings - which at times fell below 1 percent last year - to 3 percent by the end of the school year. However, the district's reserve fund balance is currently $40,000 below projections, reflecting the slow rate of tax collection this year.We are not sure why people haven't paid taxes yet, Deputy Superintendent Ken Crawford said.It may that the general economic downtown is making it harder. The district will be monitoring the situation over the school year. District enrollment grew slightly, by 0.2 percent, due to heavy enrollment in the new all-day kindergarten program.If not for the all-day kindergarten program, we'd have negative growth, overall, Crawford said. At the K-4 level, enrollment will decrease by nearly 100 students. The high school is graduating classes that average 320 students, while the grade level classes are currently only about 265 students. There may not only be fewer students in the future, but less state money to pay for them if this year's funding sets the pattern.The growth rate of per-pupil funding the district receives from the state has fallen from a five-year average increase of 4.7 percent to 4.3 percent. Funding slowsThe new budget covers the 3.7 percent pay increases for the 15 teachers and 40 classified staff who are in excess of the number the state will fund.District officials say the lower rate of state funding and the need to cover employee salary raises and benefits have effectively cancelled out the intent of voters' initiatives 728 and 732 to funnel money to schools. On the capital side, a projected influx of $4 million - the hoped-for favorable outcome of the district's litigation over poor construction at Woodward Middle School - will be used to fix that school. The materials and supplies budget for district buildings and classrooms, which has shrunk 15 percent over five years, continues a downward trend. Board members Susan Sivitz and Cheryl Dale have expressed ongoing concern over the cuts. In contrast, the budget for services purchased out-of-district, including legal fees, insurance and fuel, has increased by 19.3 percent. The number of district teachers will increase by five staff members in 2001-2002.One custodial position was restored to the high school this year, but the staff is still down one position from cuts two years ago As prudence prevails, school board member Bruce Weiland noted that one could view the flat enrollment in a positive light.Instead of building yet more new facilities, Weiland said, we get to retrench and fix all the things that need fixing. We get to focus on maintenance, restoration and repairs.Superintendent of Schools Stephen Rowley said he is pleased with the budget process.We've been able to restore all services and programs and nearly all staff we looked at through the budget process of last year, Rowley said, and we've been able to raise the reserve balance.

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