Advisory committee reaches consensus for cuts in Bainbridge schools budget crisis

A committee appointed to determine where budget cuts will be made to help the Bainbridge Island School District bridge a $2.1 million budget gap has largely signed off on earlier ideas for reducing the spending plan for the upcoming school year.

But the committee has also come up with a few new ideas for a budget fix that goes beyond cutting support staff. A big change: possibly starting and ending school later in the day for some students.

The District Budget Advisory Committee met Tuesday as it reached the end of its deliberations. The group has forwarded its recommendations for budget changes for the 2017-18 school year to the Bainbridge school board, which was scheduled to meet late this week to consider those suggestions.

In February, district officials announced that deep cuts were needed in order to meet a budget gap caused by lack of adequate state funding for education, decreasing student enrollment and staff costs.

Shortly after announcing the need for the cuts, the District Budget Advisory Committee was formed to examine spending and recommend where budget cuts should be made to cover the $2.1 million shortfall.

Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen oversaw the committee tasked with making those recommendations, something Bang-Knudsen regarded as a “tough process.”

“Every single one of the reductions is challenging,” Bang-Knudsen said. “It involves people, it involves impacts on the kids and staff, so it’s really challenging.”

Of the committee members, Bang-Knudsen said he was pleased with the level of discourse the group was able to achieve, and is confident that the agreed reductions will have minimal impact on students.

“I’m really proud of the group. I thought we had a really rich discussion; we really weighed the pros and cons of each of the reductions that we were talking about. I think we have a list that really prioritizes kids, teaching and learning — which is the core focus of our school district,” Bang-Knudsen said.

The reductions recommended by the committee are:

Reducing a full-time athletic director position by half; reducing instructional coach positions by 1.6 full-time equivalents; various reductions to nursing and health room staff totaling $67,000; removing two custodial positions; the reduction of a mechanic position, which will save $30,000; reductions to district office staff totaling $80,000; reduction to the time spent washing buses daily by 15 minutes, which will save $29,896; and eliminating the district’s Welcome Back Breakfast, which will save $15,000.

A few areas of hot debate emerged among committee members, though One such topic was the proposed adjustment to school start-times. That change would have had elementary students starting school earlier by five minutes.

The earlier start time would make it possible to remove two district bus routes, saving the district $58,288.

When faced with the prospect of parents waking up even earlier to get children off to school, Jennifer Pells, one of the parent volunteers on the committee, dug in her heels.

Pells said that making an already early start-time even earlier did not serve students’ best interests and negatively impacted parents who would instead be driving their kids to school.

Others agreed it wasn’t a simple solution.

“The start time, five minutes early, [there’s] a lot of challenges,” Bang-Knudsen said.

“But that’s the equivalent of six-tenths of a [instructional] coach. That would be a significant chunk of a coach, and something that’s pretty feasible,” the superintendent noted.

“It’s a $60,000 five minutes,” remarked another committee member incredulously.

“I get it, but where do we stop? Are you going to start at 7:10?” Pells responded.

The group eventually agreed to look into possibly adjusting start and end times for grades 5 through 12 by 10 minutes. This would provide the necessary gap for buses to shuttle students to schools while still consolidating two routes.

If implemented by the school board, the change would push school start and end-times forward by 10 minutes for students in grades 5 through 12.

Bang-Knudsen said he would be working to examine the feasibility of a later start with middle school and high school administrators.

Another debate was sparked when it came to instructional coaches who provide supplemental instruction to students.

Among committee members, instructional coaches were ranked as the highest priority, a fact which was shown during a brief session where each committee member ranked the reduction topics by most to least crucial for schools.

By deciding to eliminate two custodial positions and incorporating the two-bus route reductions, the committee was able to retain two full-time instructional coach positions.

The meeting was also attended by an individual whose livelihood could be drastically affected by the cuts.

Kaycee Taylor, Bainbridge High’s athletic director, was in attendance at the final committee meeting.

“The number of kids involved continues to increase and I think that’s actually a testament to what we have available for our athletes at our schools,” Taylor said.

“It’s hard to make decisions on this. I personally am invested in it because I have spent the last four years trying to grow a department that is not just competitive but focuses on education, and focuses on character, and those types of things,” he said.

“Those things will necessarily be lost,” Taylor said, and added that juggling the duties of both an athletic director and a teacher make it difficult to do both jobs well.

“The first year I did this as an athletic director — .4 teaching, .6 athletic director — and, to be honest, I didn’t do either job as well as I wanted to because I just couldn’t,” Taylor said, citing his need to frequently step away from instruction to check on field conditions and make arrangements for visiting teams.

In addition to the proposed cuts, the committee also agreed to recommend reinstating a $200 charge for students who wish to take a seventh-period class. The group also suggested increasing the cost for high school parking passes by $10 to $250.

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