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Bremerton School District budget cuts likely to come at the top

Across-the-board department reductions and cuts to administration may be in the cards for the Bremerton School District as it attempts to make up for a dip in state dollars.

In addition to those cuts, a district official said Thursday Bremerton schools will likely have to reduce the teaching staff by the full-time equivalent of two-and-a-half teachers, but those reductions would likely come as resignations or retirements.

Walt Connolly of the district's Budget Committee announced the group's preliminary recommendations at Thursday's school board meeting as it prepares to make final budget recommendations to the board May 6.

The committee's first priority is to make across-the-district department cuts at a certain percentage, if possible. The percentage has not been established. The next most important cuts would be to cut administrative staffing in all school buildings and to combine positions and increase duties for technology specialists.

"The pain is spread out and affects everyone," Connolly said, adding that the district needs to consolidate to achieve long-term savings.

The budget committee's priorities were determined after the district learned it will take about a $650,000 reduction from the state for the 2010-2011 school year. That number is less than what the district expected — a $1.3 million cut from the $34 million expected — but the district needs to plan for tougher budgets in the future, said Wayne Lindberg, director of Finance and Operations.

"Overall, we can live with this budget for one more year," he said.

Furthermore, state assistance for poor districts may offset the $650,000 cut, Lindberg said.

The biggest reductions from the state will come in the area of I-728 and "K-4 enhancement," both of which aim to reduce class sizes in elementary schools. The district has enough I-728 money to last through the next year, but starting in fall 2011, the budget will look more grim. That same year, retirements are expected to double, the district will no longer have federal stimulus money and the overall budget might face a 5 to 10 percent hit.

Though the 2011-2012 budget will require a reduction of less than three teachers, Lindberg said there will likely be enough retirements and resignations to prevent teacher layoffs.

Connolly also announced the committee's priorities of what areas to preserve. At the top of the wish list was the return of full-time physical education, music and library programs after they were cut last year. The committee also voted to save kindergarten to fourth grade class sizes and additional programs such as Advanced Placement classes, the highly capable program and the district's elementary school Spanish immersion program.

Saving those areas would help maintain a quality education for the district's students, Connolly said.

"Without a proper foundation we have nothing to build on," he said.

Meanwhile, the district is applying for grants that could offset further budget reductions. First, it will apply for a federal grant that would award $15 million over three years for pre-kindergarten through third grade education. It will also compete for a magnet school grant that Superintendent Lester "Flip" Herndon hopes will yield $400,000 to $700,000 per year for three years to create a kindergarten to eighth grade science, technology, engineering and math school at West Hills Elementary.

The district will host a community budget forum at 7 p.m. April 29 in the board room of the Administration Building, located at 134 Marion Avenue. The budget committee's final recommendations will be presented to the school board at the May 6 Board meeting at 5 p.m.

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