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Grim outlook for North Kitsap School District budget

The North Kitsap School District is in a tough spot as the budget for next year begins to thin.

During an emergency special session on Dec. 11, lawmakers worked at removing part of the current $1.1 billion from the state’s deficit, including numerous cuts to education.

Among the recommended cuts made during the session, $375,000 was removed from funding for grades kindergarten through fourth grade. The funding was part of $168 million in potential reductions that also included eliminating the Basic Health Plan.

Because of these initial cuts, an overstaffed district and a large graduating class this year, the school district is running out of options before more jobs are cut.

The district has continued to cut from its budget for several years, starting at the programs least affected, said Superintendent Richard Jones.

“There is a common phrase used around here; ‘You trim the tree of its low-hanging fruit first,’” Jones said. “Well, there is no more low-hanging fruit.”

The district is currently overstaffed by about 10 positions. Because of the projected small enrolling class size next year and another large graduating class, the district expects to be about 23 staff over allocation for the 2011-2012 school year. Though the staffing problem is not related to the budget deficit, it will cause an increase in class sizes as jobs begin to be eliminated — an increase of 1-2 students per class.

Because there is already a class size problem at the secondary level, the positions being cut will come from primary education.

“Our elementary classrooms will be affected by these budget decisions,” Jones said. “We will still do our best to keep our primary classes as low as possible.”

In a Legislative meeting on Monday, alternatives budget cuts were suggested and the reality of the situation for the district set in.

Though lawmakers are working on cutting $1.1 billion, officials face larger problems for the next two-year budget — mid-2011 to mid-2013. An approximate $4.8 billion shortfall in the $33 billion budget will need to be fixed.

“Obviously the situation is very dire,” said State Rep. Sherry Appleton said at the meeting. “Voting for that cut is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.”

It was announced the district faces about $1.3 million in additional cuts. Though examples of alternative programs to reduce or eliminate were given, nothing was set in stone.

Eliminating the High School Proficiency Exam as a graduation requirement was something to consider. Removing the student measurement would save about $23 million and help reduce the need to increase class sizes, said State Rep. Christine Rolfes.

Now that the school districts are faced with tough budget decisions, student-measurement exams will potentially be on the chopping block, Jones said.

“Now that we have these problems it will be looked at ... I think it would be a huge step backwards,” Jones said.

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