Bremerton schools' $1.3M deficit triggers talk with legislators

Deficit could reach $1.3 million.

The prospect of a $1.3 million budget shortfall sparked conversation between Bremerton School District (BSD) board members, Superintendent Dr. Bette Hyde and five local legislators.

State Reps. Kathy Haigh (D-Shelton), Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor), Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) and Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), and state Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) attended a community forum Tuesday in the district administration building.

Before a budget presentation by BSD Director of Finance and Operations Wayne Lindberg, Hyde said Bremerton isn’t the only district with a budget crunch and is looking to “reduce” rather than “add” costs.

Soon after, Lindberg outlined the budget bind in a PowerPoint presentation, noting declining enrollment numbers and rising food, fuel and energy costs, among others, as key factors to the financial shortfall.

“We’re budgeting conservatively,” he said.

The state funds schools based on enrollment, “staff mix” and staff-per-student allocations, Lindberg said.

And with student enrollment down 13.4 percent since 2001, going from 5,770 to 4,999, and certified staff (4.5 percent), administrative staff (7.2 percent) and classified staff (1.3 percent) down as well, along with other financial burdens, the board expressed concern about receiving enough state money to stay out of a hole.

Nine-year board member Dr. Dewayne Boyd, also a former BSD superintendent, said transportation, special education, administrative salaries and non-employee related costs top the list of financial concerns.

“Those are the areas with the great shortfall,” he said. “If we can take care of those basics at least it gets us closer to reality.”

Lawmakers responded to the information with concern.

“I think we’ve got to get this right,” Kilmer said.

“As a society we’re losing too many young people, and I think we can do better,” Seaquist added.

While BSD needs help, there’s only so much the representatives can do.

“This state is easily $1 billion underfunded in education,” Seaquist said. “We simply aren’t funded.”

Despite the money squeeze, Lantz praised Hyde, the board and district personnel for steering Bremerton schools in the right direction, especially in terms of early education.

“I want you to know we’ve traveled a path together that’s been quite extraordinary,” Lantz said. “We have to celebrate our successes.”

Recognized as a state “Lighthouse” district in early learning, BSD won the national Magna Award in 2007. The school board also was selected as the 2007 State Diversity Board of the Year.

“(The BSD) set the U.S. on fire with the notion of early learning,” Lantz said, referring to the district’s all-day kindergarten program. “It’s been wonderful to see that happen.”

The community is encouraged to attend future forums. The next meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 17. The administration building is located at 134 Marion Ave. N. in Bremerton.

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