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Bainbridge school district mulls staff cuts as projected budget gap widens

In response to a projected budget shortfall of $1.93 million for the next school year, Bainbridge School District could cut up to 18 full-time certificated staff and administration positions.

That level of staff reduction is highly unlikely, and reflects and absolute worst-case-scenario, Supt. Faith Chapel said. But the school board is contractually required to outline the full scope of possible reductions to certificated staff by May 15.

A special school board meeting will be held 7 p.m. Thursday to vote on a resolution finalizing outlining potential reductions to certificated staff.

Supt. Faith Chapel said the school board could choose to eliminate fewer positions, but it cannot cut more positions than it approves by the May 15 deadline. Several of the positions cuts could be made through attrition.

Reductions to classified staff will be decided later in the budget process.

The projected budget gap is based on the latest state budget figures released last week by the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction.

Chapel said final numbers won't be available for several weeks, and for budgeting purposes the district is now considering a worst-case-scenario figure of $2.2 million. The district had been preparing for a gap of $1.5 to $1.8 million, with a worst-case-scenario of $2 million.

But district staff members were surprised to learn last week that the state's final budget included deeper cuts to general education than had been called for in either the Senate or House proposed budget.

"Instead of a compromise being made between the two, there was actually more taken out than in either version," Chapel said at a school board meeting last week.

Still unknown is whether the Legislature will reconvene for a special session. If it does, legislators could pass a stalled bill that would send more money to schools that receive levy equalization money. That money would have to come from elsewhere in the education budget, which could hurt schools that don't receive levy equalization money, including Bainbridge.

Proposed staff reductions to certificated and administrative staff include: seven FTE K-6 teaching positions; 3.4 FTE certified staff from 7-12 programs; a half-time K-8 homeschool support position as well as the 0.4 FTE multicultural coordinator for 7-12; the equivalent of one full-time school nurse; one full-time special educator; school counselors by 1.8 FTE; and building and district administrators by 2.4 FTE.

District administrators have already volunteered to take a 2 percent pay reduction.

A number of educators and community members attended the school board meeting last week to protest positions proposed for elimination.

Many spoke in support of multicultural coordinator Maria Rivera, who promotes diversity at Woodward Middle School and Bainbridge High School, and serves as an adviser of the high school's United Brothers and Sisters club.

High school teacher Steve Swanson said Rivera's work was helping minority students find a place in school.

"Kids who would not normally come forward and make themselves vulnerable to others are starting to do that," Swanson said.

Cutting the multicultural program, he said, would be a setback for the district and the larger community.

"It speaks volumes about our commitment to diversity," Swanson said. "The community looks to us for direction and leadership."

Karen Vargas, who has worked closely with Rivera, said being a minority student in a white-dominated community is a serious challenge. Some face open discrimination from other students, she said.

"It's very difficult being a woman of color in this community, especially an African American," Vargas said. "It's difficult for me, and I'm an adult. My children have struggled through this school district."

School nurse Heidi McKay spoke out against cuts proposed for the nursing program. She said the program had already been cut by 20 percent in the last budget cycle. If proposed cuts were approved, each building in the district would only see nurses for one half-day to one full day a week, she said.

"This is the only place where cuts could have a life-threatening impact," McKay said.

At the same meeting last week, the school board heard preliminary recommendations from the Budget Advisory Committee. Six subcommittees have spent the last several months combing the district's budget for potential savings.

Preliminary recommendations included a wide range of cuts and revenue increases across the district's operating budget.

One big-ticket item identified was in the transportation department, where DBAC found that $200,000 could be saved if the district switched from a three-run bus schedule to a two-run schedule. Others include cutting the district's central print shop and deferring curriculum reviews.

Proposed revenue boosters included increasing fees for extra-curricular activities.

DBAC's preliminary recommendations totaled roughly $2 million in increased revenue and savings.

The school board is expected to approve a preliminary budget in late June.

The school board meets 7 p.m. Thursday, also in the BHS library.

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