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School cuts coming again

The South Whidbey Board of Education is trusting administrators to make enough cuts in the budget to avoid laying off teachers this year.

On Monday night, the subject of layoffs came up for the second year in a row for the South Whidbey School District. A list of teachers scheduled to be laid off in a reduction in force, or RIF, is due to be published by May 15.

Teachers, administrators and South Whidbey Education Association members were present at the meeting.

In spite of expected budget cuts at the state level, district administrators assured the board enough cuts could be made locally without affecting personnel.

In a Power Point presentation at the meeting, Superintendent Martin Laster said the district could be looking at a $280,000 budget shortfall under a worst-case scenario. He also noted that the district is losing money due to a decline in enrollment. The district has lost a total of 150 students during the past three school years.

Laster said the shortfall comes out of a combination of factors: a projected $123,000 cut by the state, $40,000 going out for roof maintenance at the primary school this coming year, and $125,000 the district might spend to comply with the school board's stated desire to have a 5-percent reserve fund.

The district's total budget cuts will not be determined until the Washington Legislature reconvenes on May 12 to deal with the state's budget. Laster said he does not see a need for actual layoffs this year.

"We feel confident we can hit the mark without a RIF," said Laster, trying to reassure teachers at the meeting.

No one at the meeting supported staff cuts. Board chairman Ray Gabelein said there are other alternatives if it comes down to cutting positions.

"If we have to cut, I would rather look at the administrative personnel," he said.

Gabelein brought up the idea of cutting administration several times during the meeting.

"I have been asked by the community, with enrollment falling, do we need as as many administrators?" he said.

During the ensuing discussion, board members mentioned two administrative positions in particular that could be considered among staff cuts, those of the assistant superintendent and student services coordinator.

Riggs pointed out that in naming specific positions, board members were essentially putting two people on a RIF list that doesn't exist.

"It sounds like we are notifying two people tonight before they go home they may be riffed," he said.

Following Gabelein's initial comment about administrative cuts, Riggs reminded the board that the administration prepared a list the previous year showing how cuts could be made without layoffs. This year, district staff will decrease without layoffs, since four teachers are retiring. Those positions are not expected to be filled.

There are other possibilities for saving money. Laster presented some sample reductions, including staffing savings, instituting two lunch periods at the high school and trimming copying costs and re-inking cartridges. Taken together, those solutions could save the district $570,000.

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