Fewer students prompts school district budget crunch

The Bainbridge Island School District overestimated enrollment this year by 45 students, which wouldn’t be a big deal except for the state funding that’s tied to actual enrollment. Beginning in January, the district has eight months to make up a $250,000 revenue loss.

But nobody’s sweating.

At last Thursday’s school board meeting, Business Services Director Peggy Paige explained the district’s game plan for dealing with the budget reduction. It’s cuts, cuts, cuts.

Paige proposed a hiring freeze on open positions, limiting overtime, reducing energy use and adjusting MSOC allocations — which cover materials and supplies — for each of the district’s seven schools.

She also clarified that the district would be working with a demographer to avoid the same mistake next year.

Spokeswoman Erin Jennings later said that the district was not instituting a hiring freeze so much as pausing with each employee resignation to evaluate whether a position should be re-filled.

“We are using a discerning eye and seeing if it is crucial to fill the position, or if instead the position can be tweaked or not filled,” she explained.

On the energy front, the facilities department has been retro-fitting building light fixtures to more energy-efficient models, Jennings said.

“We are also better aligning our buildings’ heating and cooling programs when buildings aren’t in use,” she added.

Building administrators and department heads have been asked to evaluate the use of overtime and to think creatively about how goals can be accomplished in fewer hours. Each school and department has been asked to reduce their MSOC budget by 10 percent, as well.

Jennings is confident that the district will make up all of the lost revenue by the end of the school year.

“We are being purposeful and careful and will continue monitoring our spending closely,” she said. And, looking ahead to ensure this situation doesn’t happen again.

Traditionally, the district has estimated enrollment using a tool that analyzes data from the previous six years. One of the factors behind this year’s overprojection, Jennings said, might be the high cost of housing.

“We’ve experienced lower than expected enrollment in our primary grades and have heard anecdotally that the high cost of housing on Bainbridge Island is making it difficult for some families to live here,” she said.

Moving forward, Jennings said, the district may use a shorter range to better predict matriculation. They’ll also be consulting with a demographer this January. Conveniently, the capital projects department had already hired Educational Data Services, a company the district worked with in 2011, for help with its project planning. The district will be able to use the data they collect for other purposes, like enrollment projections, Jennings explained.