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School district budget will stay the course

A healthy reserve should help the Bainbridge Island School District weather a year of minor deficit spending.

A draft budget for fiscal year 2003-2004 shows the district running down its bank account by about $168,000, to cover an estimated $28.6 million in general operating expenditures.

Bucking a trend of cutbacks and other difficulties in school districts around the state, the budget represents a continuation of current programs and actually bolsters special education.

“In current times, that’s pretty good news,” said Ken Crawford, superintendent of schools. “Our effort in building the budget was to maintain and sustain.”

The school board will take public comment on the budget at this week’s meeting.

The budget effort reconciles waning state funding against higher district costs in such areas as insurance, and a goal of maintaining current class sizes.

The numbers assume a 1.2 percent enrollment increase – to a headcount of 4,080 – in the coming year, which Crawford described as a conservative projection.

With the state “basic education apportionment” based on enrollment, guessing low is a hedge against the financial problems that assailed the Bainbridge district several years ago. Budgeting for more students than actually showed up, the district found itself overstaffed and underfunded.

Revenue-wise, about $7.1 million will come in from local tax and non-tax sources, following overwhelming support for a four-year Bainbridge school levy last fall.

The balance comes from state and federal sources, increasingly troubled terrain. The Bainbridge district loses about $375,000 in state funding this year, thanks to budget woes in Olympia.

About $200,000 of that has been made up by local contributions to the Bainbridge Public Schools Trust, formed last year to find alternative funding sources to keep class sizes down and keep instructors in the district.

Students will bear part of the burden themselves, paying higher activity fees and more for a la carte lunch items at the high school.

On the expenditures side, the district will add three or four staff members in the growing special education programs, and several FTE in elementary education.

The district has earmarked additional transportation funds, as school buses begin running on cleaner burning – but somewhat more expensive – bio-fuels.

About $125,000 is set aside for the first phase of a two-year plan to select a new, district-wide science curriculum. Once a program is identified, materials would be purchased for the 2004-05 school year.

The budget also earmarks some funds for a possible special election next year, as the school board is considering a special levy for technology upgrades.

The “tech levy” – the district’s first since 1997 – would go to instruction-oriented classroom improvements, Crawford said.

Even with the spend-down, the district will be left with a fund reserve of about 3.75 percent.

“I think generally, our budget is in good shape because we have worked to build the reserve over the past three years,” Crawford said. “We haven’t been in deficit spending until this year, and we have the charitable help of the Trust.”

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