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Board eyes reduction in travel budget

How to cut the school district budget without firing teachers.

This was the big question at Monday's South Whidbey Board of Education meeting, where board members discussed a number of reductions that could trim more than $850,000 from the district budget.

Superintendent Martin Laster presented the board with the list of suggested cuts, which totaled $851,094 -- the amount the district will come up short next school year due to state funding cuts. The board will not actually order any cuts until its May 6 meeting.

Some items on the list came from the administrators, principals and supervisors who have been working together since news of the state cuts hit the district last month.

Other items on the list came from district personnel. Teachers in particular have a stake in the cuts, since the district has posted a preliminary list of 30 teachers and other personnel who might be laid off if the district can't trim the budget.

"The effort demonstrates that people are working hard to address the needed reductions and to show we value our employees," Laster said at the meeting. "I believe we are on the right track to save teachers' jobs without impacting the students too much."

Two areas generating quite a bit of discussion were staff travel and student field trips. School board directors Barb Schneeman and Helen Price-Johnson said cutting those trips is unfair to students.

"I have a problem asking our students to forgo field trips when the board is traveling," Schneeman said.

Price-Johnson said she doesn't believe paying for staff travel is a necessity, travel at this time. However, she did say it is important for staff and administrators to network with other districts.

Director Bob Riggs agreed that the board needs to look at any travel with a frugal eye, as did Director Jim Adsley, who said he would trade travel for families and teachers' jobs.

"I would like to see us making better use of technology for professional growth," said Adsley, citing teleconferencing as a way to communicate with other districts and teachers.

Board President Ray Gebelein said the board needs to examine the list of cuts thoroughly "to know what we're going to do in May."

Some of the budget boosting measures the board will have to decide on by May 15 include raising the price of school lunches, having fewer custodial hours, not replacing retiring teachers and those requesting leaves, and delaying the creation of a primary school computer lab.

When it comes to not replacing outgoing teachers, the district currently has three retirements and one leave request on the docket. Gabelein said he wants to know about any others soon.

"It would be helpful if folks would turn in their leave requests and retirements soon," Gabelein said.

There was one moment of levity during the meeting when the lights went out briefly three times. Laster remarked that he would remember to pay the light bill next month.

Teachers on the district's layoff list were notified of their status on April 15. Actual layoffs will not be announced until May 15.

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