Matters could be worse, says Grohe
Kent School District administrators are considering ways to shave $2.8 million off next year’s district budget in the face of increased financial challenges during the 2008-2009 school year.
Skyrocketing transportation, food and utilities costs in the struggling economy are part of the reason for the financial predicament, according to district officials. Superintendent Barbara Grohe said citizens can relate.
“Just about everything that’s affecting one’s budget at home right now affects our budget at school,” she said.
But the district feels it on a larger scale, she said, buying fuel for its fleet of more than 130 buses, feeding around 27,000 students and heating and cooling dozens of district buildings.
Those costs, along with state-mandated salary and benefit increases for district employees and increasing costs of mandated programs like special education, all add up. And state funding boosts aren’t enough to cover all of it, said Fred High, assistant superintendent for business services.
“We get an increase in funds from the state, but it’s not enough to do both salary increases and cover things like increased transportation costs,” High said. “And you’ve got to do the salary increases first.”
The state expects that districts subsidize additional costs with local tax dollars, and an increase in levy funds is included in next year’s budget. But every dollar of that increase will go toward employee raises, High said.
Funding to cover other climbing costs will have to come from somewhere else, and the district is searching for ways to scrimp and save without affecting instructional programs. Officials will present the first draft of a budget-reduction plan to the Kent School Board at 7 tonight.
Grohe said she expects conservation of utilities to be one action the district takes next year to cut costs.
“We’re going to have to change our lifestyle,” she said. “Right now our buildings are widely used, but that may become different in the future.”
Grohe said the district may be able to save around $500,000 through utility-conservation practices, such as regulating when buildings can be used outside of regular school hours and regulating times and temperatures of climate-control systems.
The transportation department also will reassess bus routes, making sure no drop of fuel is being wasted, and the district will look at ways to save on equipment, materials and supplies next year. A 20 percent expense-budget cut for employees across the district is also being considered, meaning teachers will have to plan class trips and special events more frugally.
The savings effort already has begun, Grohe said. Central and support services at the administration center have already been asked to attempt a 5 percent expense reduction in order to generate savings to carry over for next year.
Grohe said the situation is challenging, but it could be much worse. Budget deficits are being predicted all over the state, will some districts smaller than Kent’s planning even larger budget cuts.
“We’ve been extraordinarily frugal over the years to make sure our cuts wouldn’t have to be as deep,” Grohe said. “If you look around us and see what other districts are having to cut, one could say we’re still in pretty good shape.”
The superintendent, who recently announced her retirement effective at the end of next school year, remains positive about the district’s past and future success.
“Despite all of this, a lot of great things have happened this year, and they will continue to happen next year,” Grohe said. “The focus is still on student achievement, and our kids are doing very well.”
She assured that building projects like the new Panther Lake Elementary School and new programs like the district’s “One-to-One” laptop-computer initiative and expanding technology academies are safe from cuts. They are funded by levies passed specifically for those purposes.
Tight budget issues won’t end with the coming school year, High predicted. He expects the 2009-2010 school year to bring even greater challenges. The state places a cap on the amount of tax dollars schools can use, and that amount will be reached with next year’s levy increase.
“While this year is difficult, I estimate that next year will substantially more difficult,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of alternatives available to school districts.”
The budget-reduction plan for the 2008-2009 school year is expected to be finalized in August. A first draft of the plan will be presented at the school board meeting 7 p.m. tonight. Members of the public are welcome to attend the meeting, which will take place at the district administration center, located at 12033 S.E. 256th St.
For more information about school board policies and meetings, visit www.boarddocs.com/wa/ksdwa/board.nsf.