School RIFS certain in 2005

Brown: District rehired too many in 2004. - Gayle Saran
Brown: District rehired too many in 2004.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

At least 24 South Whidbey School District employees will receive pink slips this spring if the district continues to lose students at the present rate.

Speaking to the South Whidbey Board of Education Monday night, Superintendent Bob Brown said balancing the budget and building a fund balance as enrollment — and per-student state funding — drop requires teacher and staff layoffs. Brown said the cuts are based on building the 2005-06 budget on an enrollment of less than 2,000 students. Brown said he estimates an enrollment of 1,890 full-time equivalent students next year.

“We are committed to this number so far... It’s conservative but not too conservative,” he said.

The 2004-05 budget was based on 2,030 students; as of this week, the district counts 2,012 FTE students in its schools.

Cuts total $1.1 million in the coming year’s $15.5 million budget are based on this student population, Brown said. Of that, $850,000 is estimated to be lost in state funding, while $250,000

is expected be budgeted to build the district’ fund balance to $700,000.

School board president Helen Price Johnson said, “the news is very serious,” and board members gave their OK to Brown to move forward 2005-06 budget planning based on these early numbers. Brown, who is expected to serve as superintendent one more year said he wants the district’s fund balance to equal 5 percent of the district’s annual budget.

The school board set a goal of a $1 million fund balance, which Brown said the district will meet in the next year or two.

“It’s going to be a tough couple of years,” Brown told the board.

Brown, Ben Thomas, business manager for the district, and Jerry Jenkins, superintendent of Education Service District 189 developed South Whidbey’s projected enrollment figures based on “three tested methodologies,” according to Thomas. Thomas said the range was from a low of 1,974 to 1,803 estimated enrollment next year.

Brown said more budget meetings are scheduled to include building administrators, program directors and eventually community members. The new budget will be approved this summer.

Last spring at least 15 reduction in force, or RIF, letters were sent to teachers, but all those notified were rehired for the current school year. Brown said too many employees were rehired.

Brown said teachers were notified of the coming RIFs via e-mail this week. Don Zisette, president of the South Whidbey Education Association, was in the audience at Monday’s board meeting listening to the news. He said he expects to have a formal reaction to the news after meeting with SWEA’s executive board this week.

The layoff news hits as the district prepares to negotiate new contracts with the three unions representing district employees.

The district’s enrollment has been declining since the 1999 school year, when it peaked at 2,300 students. Based on projections, enrollment is expected to continue downward, leveling off to between 1,500 and 1,600 students in 2010-11.

As enrollment continues to decline, Brown said there are some tough political decisions ahead for South Whidbey schools. He said the district will have to look at cutting programs and maybe even closing school buildings.

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