An erosion of trust | In Our Opinion

Bainbridge Island School District Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen recently gave a report on his listening tour to the school board.

He recounted the more than 30 gatherings late last year where he listened to district staff, students and others about what was going right in Bainbridge public schools, and what was not.

Results were mostly positive, with people praising the high-quality staff, programs and partnerships in place across the district.

We suspect that if the superintendent took another listening tour, it would be marked by much more dissonant discussions.

What he’d find is a community with plenty of voices that are angry, frustrated, surprised and worried.

The district itself is the cause of what’s becoming an erosion of trust with its leadership.

The source of the discontent is easy to find: It’s the double whammy that the community was hit with just days after Bainbridge voters gave landslide approvals to property tax levies that will bring in $51.6 million over the next four years.

The dual surprises: Bainbridge schools are in a budget crisis and need to cut $2.1 million to $3.2 million in the coming school year; programs will be chopped and teachers will be laid off. And the budget for building the South End’s new elementary school has skyrocketed.

While district officials have raised repeated concerns in recent years about inadequate funding by the state — and characterized the February levy for schools as being a vital financial bridge until the state closes its funding gap for local schools — waiting to announce upcoming budget cuts until the voters had cast ballots has struck many as an underhanded move for a district fond of touting transparency.

So, too, was the speedy move to shift remaining funds from earlier bonds that were pegged to pay for facility upgrades to the Blakely Elementary project.

There, district officials gave scant details of what projects would be forgone, as if that early bond money was simply sitting unused in a pile somewhere, waiting for someone to stop by with a wheelbarrow.

The funding shortfalls were well-known to district officials before the February vote, and it’s baffling why they weren’t completely upfront with islanders with details on the scope and size of the budget shortfalls.

Bainbridge deserves better.