District could close Commodore buildingFacilities could be consolidated as the school district tightens its belt.

"Closing buildings and going to the voters for more money are among the suggestions of a group looking at school district funding for the coming year.The District Budget Advisory Committee - comprised of school staff, parents and community members, serving as advisors in budgeting for the coming year - discussed those and other options with the school board April 26.The district, still coping with current budget problems caused by falling enrollment and fixed operating costs, could face another revenue shortfall of $1 million next year, with possible cuts in the state education budget, underfunding of Initiative 732, and higher utility costs. "

  • Wednesday, May 2, 2001 12:00pm
  • News

“Closing buildings and going to the voters for more money are among the suggestions of a group looking at school district funding for the coming year.The District Budget Advisory Committee – comprised of school staff, parents and community members, serving as advisors in budgeting for the coming year – discussed those and other options with the school board April 26.The district, still coping with current budget problems caused by falling enrollment and fixed operating costs, could face another revenue shortfall of $1 million next year, with possible cuts in the state education budget, underfunding of Initiative 732, and higher utility costs. The district has an operating budget of about $25 million this year.DBAC members suggested that to save money, the district should consider closing buildings. You have a capital investment of facilities designed to handle more kids than you have, DBAC member Mike Royce said. I’m a Boeing guy – you figure out where you have excess capacity. We can save by consolidating buildings. The Commodore facility, which houses the district’s alternative programs, including Strawberry Hill Alternative School, Odyssey Multi-age Classroom, Contract Studies and Renaissance, is considered a leading candidate. The alternative programs would be preserved, but relocated. According to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Brent Petersen, 20 percent of the Commodore building is not in use, while another 15 percent is used for storage and other non-classroom space.A study of district buildings by an independent contractor – assessing efficiency of both energy and use – will be completed over the summer. Local teachers’ union official and DBAC member Dave Layton suggested that the district might appeal to the Bainbridge community to assume costs for some extracurricular activities.We need to look at larger chunks of our budget in a partnership mode with the community to get around that levy lid, Layton said. We need a frank conversation with the island.Money for extracurricular programs, he suggested, could be raised by other taxing agencies such as the city or the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, Layton suggested, by putting another levy before Bainbridge voters. Layton cited a decade-old precedent in which the park district assumed Commodore’s extracurricular activities for two years. When the school district found itself short $800,000 about 10 years ago, and programs were dropped, Layton said parents approached the park district, which raised the money with a two-year levy. Layton said that other districts, including Seattle are currently raising money with supplemental levies.The district started the current budgeting process with a bare-bones approach, setting a baseline of the minimum staffing and operating costs set by law and locally bargained contracts with teachers. DBAC members then presented the board with the wish list of staff and programs the group would like to see added back. We found that many staff and program supplements were added over the past years when district operating costs were relatively stable and revenues were escalating due to enrollment increases, Superintendent of Schools Steve Rowley said. With the situation reversed, it has been essential to freshly identify the basic revenue sources and costs associated with our schools and departments literally from the bottom line.The baseline budget was never intended to be implemented as written, district officials say, but was to be a starting point to which priority programs would be added back as the district can afford them. The baseline budget, without any add-backs, would lower next year’s district teaching staff by 4.72 full-time equivalent positions; those cuts are already covered by the six teachers due to retire at the end of this school year. Classified staff would be cut by 8.1 FTE. While teachers and para-educator support staff came out at the top of the DBAC wish list, district officials that cuts, if they are made, will come first from the support staff for tech labs and libraries.No budget model under consideration would add back the 1.75 FTE teachers and 2.43 FTE classified staff already cut this year.Other items on the wish list are counseling staff and secretarial support.Island businessman Clif McKenzie, DBAC community member-at-large, warned the board about being over-cautious in their budgetary approach. Let’s not put programs ‘on the table’ for the $300,000 in (new) utilities costs, which is just a guess, MacKenzie said. Let’s not be overly aggressive in our estimates because we got stung last year.Mackenzie suggested using the district’s reserve fund – which is projected to have a balance of between $425,000 and $450,000 by the current school year’s end – to cover higher energy costs. Board member Cheryl Dale defended the conservative approach, noting that an unexpected drop in enrollment could up-end the budget on the first day of school, as it did in fall 2000.Exactly what can be added back to the baseline won’t be known until the Legislature passes a budget and the level of state school support is known. “

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