letter

Reporter requested

Please send a reporter to the August 26 OISD Board Meeting. The last meeting focused on budget and staff cuts, despite voters just approving two levies. The shortfall is due to enrollment losses. Due to COVID when public schools closed and private schools stayed open, many students left OISD to avoid remote learning and switched to in-person at Orcas Christian or Salmonberry. Both have waiting lists and Salmonberry recently boasted an enrollment of 60 students.

Superintendent Eric Webb presented steady enrollment trends. However, as one astute board member Ayn Gailey pointed out, the numbers did not distinguish between the loss of existing students versus new students arriving on Orcas. Webb also calculated the budget impact of enrollment loss per student, which appeared lower than previous estimates. Hopefully, OISD will invest more time to determine accurate revenue loss, whether it includes only state funding or also federal and other sources. The numbers should calculate the revenue loss over multiple years per student since most students do not leave for only one year but multiple years. Also, when OISD loses a brick-and-mortar student, it also loses a seat for OASIS.

Many families expressed support of one bright spot for enrollment, Orcas Island Montessori Public with a long waiting list. One board member agreed on expansion as an opportunity to increase enrollment. However, the board chair found a preference for other priorities among the rest of the board. Superintendent Webb offered another solution to shortfalls, directing teachers to increase workloads in OASIS, OISD’s successful remote learning school.

A modest funding request was rejected for OIMP to add teaching staff. If waitlisted students leave, what is the revenue loss compared to the cost of adding staff?

Taxpayers put their trust in OISD in two recent levies. OISD should reciprocate with carefully reviewed budget numbers, and sincere efforts to minimize enrollment losses by strongly pursuing opportunities to add students. Hopefully, your reporter can shine a light on budget cuts due to enrollment losses, amid claims it costs too much to add staff to increase enrollment.

Lili Hein

Orcas Island