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South Whidbey teachers lay out cost-cutting options

Some ideas have merit. Others, not so much.

Last week, South End parents and teachers from the South Whidbey Education Association got together to examine ways for the school district to save a few bucks.

About $1.8 million bucks, to be exact.

That’s the projected budget shortfall the South Whidbey School District expects next year due to declining enrollment, reduced federal and state education funding and the general economic malaise.

Jan McNeely, president of the teachers’ union, said there were dozens of ideas, not all workable.

“For instance, one idea is to have all island school districts come under one administration, including a single superintendent,” McNeely said.

That may not work, however.

The reason is that Oak Harbor schools receive millions of federal dollars related to the number of qualified low-income children they serve, according to District Superintendent Fred McCarthy. Folding Coupeville and South Whidbey into a single unit would cause the North End district to lose a large portion of that money.

But there were other concepts both large and small discussed at a well-attended teacher/parent meeting last week. Some that show great promise include:

• Applying for federal stimulus dollars for a remodel of structures so if the district has to consolidate programs, it’ll be able to better plan the moves.

• Approach the South Whidbey Schools Foundation to solicit grant writers to go after state and federal money available to school districts.

• Have a Hearts & Hammers weekend for all the schools. “With all the contractors on the South End currently out of work, a weekend of work would probably save the district thousands of dollars in building maintenance,” McNeely said.

• Use technology money from last year’s levy as promised to make each classroom “tech smart” before asking the public to pass a huge tech levy for a program which will be difficult to sustain and maintain.

• Work with South Whidbey Parks & Recreation to float a levy to fund school athletics. The district currently budgets about $300,000 out of a $17 million budget for sports at the middle and high schools. Each student pays $50 per sport, with a maximum of $100 per school year for each athlete.

• Greatly decrease dollars spent on outside consultants and studies.

• Finally, cut administrative staff in line with the cuts to teaching staff.

The district is working on plans to meet the budget crunch. The first step is to draw down the fund balance — money set aside for cash flow and emergencies — from 8 to 6 percent, or about $300,000.

McNeely said the district could easily draw down even more.

“Five percent is considered a healthy reserve by professional education organizations,” she said.

Another $200,000 will be saved from the teaching and learning budget and items affecting curriculum.

Administrators have a list of items to make the district run more efficiently. Ideas include consolidating the primary and intermediate schools, cutting food service, identifying savings in the transportation budget, combining administrative duties and eliminating some support services.

The teachers’ union is compiling a complete list and will present it to district officials within the next week.

School-board members will make a final determination on the budget at their July 22 meeting.

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