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Budget talks, kids may walk

Transportation was a big concern for the Bremerton School District (BSD) Citizens Finance Committee when members sat down to find a way to balance a budget with a projected $3.7 million shortfall.

The BSD Board of Directors met June 8 to discuss the district’s 2009-10 budget and get feedback and a suggested course of action from the finance committee, interim superintendent Beverly Cheney, the superintendent’s council and cabinet members.

Board members Louis Mitchell and DeWayne Boyd listened with Cynthia Galloway, board president, to a presentation by the finance committee in which administrative cuts, more staff off-time, transportation cuts, pay-to-play extracurricular activities and transportation, increased facility use fees and energy savings were discussed.

The cuts to transportation would be to reduce bus routes from three to two, reduce the number of buses to six and restructure maintenance costs by creating competition between Central Kitsap School District (CKSD), which currently handles repairs for BSD, and a private vendor to possibly drive costs down which, according to transportation employees, is hard to do because of restrictions by the manufacturer, Cummins.

Richard, a driver for BSD, said certain repairs can only be diagnosed and repaired by Cummins, so where they are performed is irrelevant.

“We still have to pay Cummins,” he said to the board. “No matter where the repairs are done.”

One of the administrative cuts suggested was to have administrators substitute teach at times, but Boyd said he has already seen this scenario, and it was not very effective.

“This has been done before,” he said. “It does not save a lot of money.”

The issue of pay-to-play was a hot button for members of the committee and sparked much debate among the group.

Suggestions ranged from clubs, like the Associated Student Body (ASB), pitching in money for trips to finding booster clubs willing to help finance those students who can’t afford it otherwise.

The committee recognized Bremerton as a “free/reduced lunch” area and said they were careful to keep that in mind while making their suggestions.

Cheney then presented her recommendations to the board.

Reductions have already been made in the amount of $2.7 million, so an amount just less than $1 million needs to be trimmed or found.

The suggestions include $27,000 in additional revenue from pay-to-play high school athletics and raised use fees, budget reductions of about $231,000, subsidy reductions of just more than $350,000 (including $200,000 from transportation), $126,000 in district office reductions, administrative deductions of $48,000, $115,000 in additional staff reductions, and energy savings of $90,000.

The cuts suggested were not “hard” numbers, however. They were predictions of what the district could cut or recover, according to Cheney.

“My discomfort lies in that there are a lot of assumptions rather than hard cuts,” Boyd said.

With that, Boyd asked what he called a sacrilegious question, “What is the penalty if the budget is not ready by July 10?”

The response prompted Boyd to reply, “So it is just a slap on the hand,” he questioned. “I went to Catholic school. I’ve been slapped on the hand before.”

The board asked Cheney to provide some firm figures for the next meeting.

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