BISD seeks input on ways to cut budget up to $4.5 million

The Bainbridge Island School District can’t go to its piggy bank anymore.

Savings no longer can make up the difference as BISD costs have been more than its income for years due to declining enrollment, meaning less state funding, and higher costs for almost everything.

Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudson sent a video to families Oct. 27 warning them of impending budget cuts for the next school year. The message was an all-hands-on-deck call for help to reduce the budget.

“Next year, we’re unsustainable,” Bang-Knudsen said, adding budget planning will start sooner this year because the district must reduce expenditures by up to $4.5 million.

Bang-Knudson said declining enrollment continues to be the district’s biggest budget challenge. In 2005, the district had 4,000 students; this year, enrollment is 3,400, down 37 from last year, resulting in $400,000 less state funding.

Bang-Knudsen worries: “It’s the number one thing on my mind. I’ve been talking about this for several years…”

The district also faces significant increases in costs for utilities, salaries, fuel expenses for buses and insurance. “These things are continuing to rise and are affecting our model. Our expenditures were exceeding our revenues, and that continues to be the case this year. The reason why we’ve been able to do that is we’ve been using our fund balance, or savings account, to help offset those potential reductions,” Bang-Knudsen said.

The district is required to maintain a 5% fund balance at the end of the year. Bang-Knudson anticipates reaching 5%, but BISD will no longer have any extra money.

Historically, district revenues, expenditures and the fund balance were within the 5% range during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. But, during 2019-20, 2021-22, the district saw an increase in savings due to federal relief funds and additional state funds due to the pandemic. Bang-Knudsen said the fund balance is gradually returning to 5%, and that’s the challenge. “We’re not going to have an additional fund balance to keep spending in the future.”

The district will survey staff, labor partners and community members to develop “creative ways that we can address these big challenges.” A demographer will provide an updated estimate of future enrollment, and the district will review areas for potential cost savings. In the past, the district was able to use a “hair trim” strategy to balance the budget and mitigate the impact.

“A lot of school districts are facing the same challenges, the superintendent said. “I know we can do this together, and we’re really looking forward to engaging the entire community in this process. We still think that there needs to be full funding of education, especially in areas of mental health and helping us fund some of our great extracurricular programs.”

The community is encouraged to participate in school board meetings and surveys. “Here’s our big promise. We’re going to provide a lot of opportunities for feedback, and we want to hear from lots of different stakeholders about their ideas for this process. We’re going to actively listen to a lot of different perspectives out there. We’re going to be transparent with the process that we’re going through, and we’ll provide frequent updates to the community as well,” Bang-Knudsen said.

“And finally, I know that if we work together and we get creative, and we roll up our sleeves, we can come up with creative solutions. And we can continue to do great things for our kids, and continue the great tradition that we have here in BISD.”