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Schools’ financial picture improving

The Bremerton School District is close to closing its budget gap for the 2005-2006 school year.

Director of finance and operations Kevin Ferguson presented a draft budget to the school board Wednesday afternoon that was unanimously approved.

The figures proposed this week show a $384,440 difference between the district’s expenditures and revenue for the upcoming year, a far cry from the $2.8 million being faced as recently as a month ago. The remaining difference can be filled by money from the schools’ fund balance.

Ferguson said the financial forecast is likely to get even brighter as the current draft makes very conservative estimates on utilities. The finance director said unless it appears the area faces a very harsh winter, those expenditure numbers will drop when the final budget is prepared.

Closing the gap has not come without a price however. The area where the schools had the ability to make the most cuts was in certificated salaries.

Five teachers remain on the Reduction in Force (RIF) list that have not gone to other districts and in addition, “one had their job phased out and does not have certifications that will be recalled,” said district spokeswoman Krista Carlson.

The district also eliminated seven classified staff positions, six of which came through attrition, Ferguson said. The remaining staffer may still return next school year if someone else retires or takes leave.

School board member Louis Mitchell expressed concerns about cuts to the interventionist positions at elementary schools. Superintendent Bette Hyde expressed regret that those positions had to be reduced to half-time at most schools but said the district has been able to keep the interventionists full-time at the three neediest elementary schools.

Kitsap Lake Elementary principal Lyle Burbidge said continued reduction of class sizes may help keep disciplinary problems on the decline and ease the loss of a full-time interventionist.

State funding decreases took the biggest toll on declining revenue numbers. “We conservatively dropped (enrollment predictions) by a hundred,” Ferguson said, after the district saw a decline last spring. Declining enrollment leads to the decrease in funding. Hyde said the district is trying to reverse that trend, seeking feedback through questionnaires to families that leave the district.

Hyde said striking a balance when making cuts for budget reasons is important because too many cuts can lead to families leaving the district because students do not receive enough individual attention.

“We’re taking a significant hit with medical and other (similar) expenditures,” Ferguson added, explaining that the state has increased funding for the cost of those benefits but not enough to keep up with rising costs.

The new budget shows the lowest percentage of spending devoted to administration going back to the late 1990s.

“The district has taken a strong look at the number of administrators and how we run,” Ferguson said.

The meeting also included discussion of the upcoming bond sale beginning July 14 which was approved by voters in May.

“People should anticipate...that their tax rate will go down for the coming year,” said board President DeWayne Boyd.

Ferguson said the rate would show a significant decrease because of unexpected increases in property value assessments, but some property owners may still see slight increases in the dollar amount they pay because their property value has risen so much.

“It’s at 25 percent as opposed to the usual two or three percent,” Ferguson said.

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