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Walking a tight rope

POULSBO — Ouch.

That’s the painful cry made by many North Kitsap School District programs and services being cut or erased under the point of the district’s budget balancing pen.

The 2008-09 budget faces a $2.8 million shortfall and district administrators, finance staff and the Budget Advisory Team have been working overtime to bring the budget into balance, and making some brutally tough decisions.

Actually budget cuts are becoming the norm for NKSD and districts across the state.

In 2006-07 NKSD wiped $2.3 million from the budget and $1.8 million in 2007-08. And to rope in the 2008-09 budget, cuts are mandatory.

“We don’t have a choice. We have to do it intentionally and purposefully to do the least damage,” said Nancy Moffatt, executive director of finance and operations, during a Thursday budget study session with the board of directors. It was the second of such sessions. “We cut the budget to the bare bones three years ago so we’re finding there’s not a lot of fluff left.”

Without the fluff and to preserve the district’s core funding priority — basic education and support services — the magic eraser is being applied to programs and services beyond basic education.

No budget cut decisions are final until the school board’s vote in July or August. However, the board was presented with a suggested list of cuts and amounts, which would narrow the deficit down to $100,000.

A total of 15 programs and services are facing the chopping block. Among the possible cuts or reduced services: a $60,000 chunk from activity buses, $45,000 taken from the teen parent day care program, $350,000 from the community pool, middle school and classified staffing forfeiting $602,923 and bumping the 22.5 student ratio in second- through fourth-grade classes to 24.1 knocks off $376,134.

While no one wants to sacrifice any program, it’s a necessary evil, as the forces of several factors combine to create the “perfect storm.”

Topping the list is the lack of basic education funding from the state, which is based on a 1977 formula.

“Their formula is way out of date and it is way inadequate,” Moffatt said.

The state funds $3,544,165 for daily operating expenses and utilities alone cost $1,905,000 annually.

“If you look at that number the state provides and then at our utilities, there’s no way,” Moffatt said with disbelief.

Requirements for the district and compensation for employees have also increased without corresponding revenue. The cost of fuel is skyrocketing as are the costs for textbooks, supplies, utilities and insurance.

In addition to rising costs across the board, the district also faces mandatory services and requirements the state mandates but does not fund. The state only funds 63.8 percent or $1,246,165 of the total $1,953,745 cost of living adjustment, which leaves NKSD with a $707,580 COLA bill to foot.

NKSD has also seen a 47 percent increase in fuel costs since September 2007. A gallon of fuel was $2.80 in September and now the district pays $4.12 per gallon. Everyday transportation services — busing students to and from school — are underfunded by $1,471,735.

Special education, child nutrition, fiscal and student data reporting, state and federal reports, and certified, classified and administrative staff are all underfunded. In totality, NKSD faces $2,036,165 in underfunded daily expenses.

Therefore, the district will do more with less and there is a flicker of hopeful light, Moffatt said.

“The little ray of sunshine above that cloud is we will have a balanced budget,” she said.

Naturally each special interest group wants their slice of the pie to be saved, which is unrealistic. And key to taming a budget is 100 percent collaboration from all, Moffatt said.

“What we’re trying desperately to do right now to weather the storm is keep folks focused on doing it together,” Moffatt said. “What would be the most devastating thing is if we started to pull ourselves apart. This is affecting all of us. We’ve got to pull together.”

Staff, PTA and community service organization presentations to discuss the preliminary budget recommendations and the difficult realities facing NKSD are slated for late May and early June. The school board will vote on the final budget in July or August.

The PowerPoint budget presentation Moffatt showed the board on Thursday can be viewed online at the district’s Web site, www.nksd.wednet.edu.

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