South Whidbey schools may cut $1M from budget

The district might face about $1 million in budget cuts for the 2024-25 school year.

The South Whidbey School District might face about $1 million in budget cuts for the upcoming school year, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Dan Poolman.

This approximately 5% reduction of the budget is only an early estimate, as Superintendent Jospehine Moccia was authorized on April 24 to reduce programs and staff if the need arises.

Community members who want to learn more about the budget or provide input can attend a community forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on May 15. The in-person meeting will take place at the Cougar Den, located at 5675 Maxwelton Road in Langley. Board members will also share district updates and answer questions about other topics.

The budget process is still in its early stages. An updated version will be presented at a workshop on July 10, and a public hearing will be held on July 24, culminating in a vote. The finalized budget is due to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction by Aug. 1.

Like many districts across the state, South Whidbey has been struggling with funding shortages due to multiple factors, including declining student enrollment and reduced state funding. As a result, many programs are underfunded — like salaries, insurance and special education — or not funded at all.

However, the district has been able to stay off the Northwest Educational Service District 189’s financial watchlist, according to the service district’s Communications Specialist Briana Lindquist.

There are currently 28 out of 35 local districts in ESD 189’s watch list, including Coupeville and Oak Harbor, due to declining cash balance. Four of those districts are under binding conditions, meaning that ESD 189 and OSPI take control over financial decisions.

Once under binding conditions, districts that fail to resolve their financial situation could be dissolved.

During the April 10 meeting, Moccia said the district has been able to manage unanticipated expenses with the “appropriate” fund balance. Last year, the district spent over $500,000 more on special education than it received from the state.

According to information presented by Poolman at a board meeting on April 10, the district has seen minimal revenue changes over the past five years and, as a result, has been struggling to keep up with inflation and increased student needs.

For example, in the 2019-20 school year, the district generated $21.3 million. In 2022-23, that increased to $22.2 million. In the coming school year, it is estimated that the school’s revenues will drop to $21.4, which, if current estimates turn out to be accurate, wouldn’t be enough to cover the possible $22.7 million in expenses the district might face in the 2024-25 school year.

With an estimated ending fund balance of $3.6 million next year, Poolman said the district could avoid making budget reductions. However, he strongly advised against that, as the following year the district would be forced to make 12% worth of cuts.

“You’re gonna need a $2.5 million reduction,” he said. “It would be catastrophic.”