Bainbridge Island School Board defers Option 2 scrutiny until 2018-2019 school year

The Bainbridge Island School Board has agreed to hold off — for now — on the potential closure of the Commodore building.

The decision came at the request of Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen, and board members voted unanimously at their last meeting to take a more intensive look at potential changes to Commodore programs later, rather than during the current quest to make budget reductions of $2.1 million.

Audible sighs of relief followed by applause came from the audience as all members of the school board voted “aye” for a resolution to allow the district’s options programs to remain at their current locations for the 2017-2018 school year.

In February, Bang-Knudsen sent a letter to staff and families detailing the need for budget cuts of between $2.1 million and $3.2 million. This revelation came only days after the residents of Bainbridge voted to approve two tax levies which would gather $51.6 million over the course of four years to pay for district operations and technology costs.

The driving forces behind the budget crisis, Bang-Knudsen said, were a lack of student enrollment, inadequate state funding and high staff salaries.

In his letter, the superintendent outlined two options for cutting the budget.

Option One included cuts to programs and staff in order to meet a workable budget, whereas Option Two called for the closure of the Commodore Building and the dispersal of its alternative learning programs throughout the district.

Bang-Knudsen drew harsh criticism from parents with children in the Commodore Options program and community members who viewed the announcement so close to a crucial vote as strategic and dishonest. To address these concerns, the district held two community information sessions for members of the public to provide feedback.

Part of the district’s money woes were solved earlier this year.

In early-March, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill delaying revisions to the levy lid – the maximum allowable amount that schools can draw from levy funds in order to pay for operational costs. The extension lessened the budget gap for the district from $3.2 million to $2.1 million.

It appears now that the $2.1 million gap will be met without having to alter the Options programs. At the March 30 board meeting, Bang-Knudsen likened the turbulent budget crisis to a childhood experience on a canoe trip in the Boy Scouts.

“One of the things we learned was sometimes setting the straight course — where you just think you’re going from Point A to Point B — it didn’t always work out that way. Of course you had wind, you had tide, sometimes you had a stronger boy on the left side than on the right side. So you had to really take those things into account,” Bang-Knudsen said.

“We kept having to adjust our course to get there. We did arrive all safely at the state park on Sucia Island,” he added. “It was a great thing.”

“I’ve also reflected a lot on this journey, we’ve had some incredible conversations,” the superintendent said.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback and I think there’s a real shared interest and a shared goal in getting it right and doing right by our kids, by our community and making these opportunities for these really popular options programs and inviting more opportunities for more kids,” Bang-Knudsen said. “That’s the goal.”

On April 11, the District Budget Advisory Committee held its final meeting before making its recommendations for budget cuts to the school board on April 13.