By MARGIE DOYLE
The Orcas Island School District budget is in a better situation than last year at this time, but formulating the 2008-2009 budget has been delayed as the State new information into its education budget, the district Board was told at the March 27 meeting.
Finance Manager Ben Thomas said that the district also faces the challenge of being funded for one less classified employee than last year due to a decline in enrollment.
Further challenges to public school financing are the issues of no growth in federal funding, increasing fuel prices, the impact of bargaining and Special Education spending requirements, Thomas said.
Board members Scott Lancaster noted that it was important that the school principals be included in the budget process. Thomas said, “When we have solid data, the principals… will be the first to see where we’re at. “
Board member Charlie Glasser asked the principals if they felt the budget process was working out all right. Elementary Principal Tom Gobeske said he was satisfied with the process, and Middle/High School Principal Barbara Kline said that everyone in the budget process was waiting for more information.
The District has not yet received the funding figures from the state, as the State education budget, approved at the end of the legislative session on March 14, still needs to be entered into the state system so that Business Managers can calculate the district’s budget.
The Alternative Learning Education program teacher, Marta Branch, told the board that the paperwork involved in that program adds an unusual burden to her work.
The board heard a report from Facilities Director David Mierau regarding a request for a grounds technician, in which he noted that the school district is responsible for not only the upkeep of the campus and sports fields, but also the cemetery and vacant lot, the skatepark, playground, tennis and basketball areas, the Vitality Trail, the parking lots and peripheral areas. Mierau also stated that since 2000, the facilities department has lost two-thirds of its staffing, in both custodian and groundskeeper positions.
Mierau concluded his report requesting “a fulltime grounds technician effective immediately.”
Board member Tony Ghazel suggested applying funds from the Associated Student Body (ASB) account to pay for fields maintenance, and later in the evening, Board member Keith Whitaker also said that he would like to look into that option.
The board agreed to add that item to the agenda for the April 2 meeting, which would give Harris and Mierau time to consult on the best way to resolve maintenance and custodial staffing needs.
After announcing that bids on the Waldron School roofing project would be sought in t he next two weeks, Jason of Waldron thanked the board, saying “We didn’t have enough movney for gutters or shovels or rakes for the last 10 years, so this is great.”
The board will begin their April 24 regular board meeting at the Waldron School site in the morning.
The board approved Ben Thomas’ contract as Finance Manager for 1.5 days for the next year, with possible revision within the year.
Business office staffing was also on the agenda as a discussion, but not as an action item. However, after hearing from the office staff, including their willingness to restructure their workload, the board responded to the need to act quickly. They voted to add additional staffing as an action item and then, in a separate vote, unanimously authorized Superintendent Glenn Harris to advertise for a fulltime accounting assistant for the rest of the 2007-2008 year (ending in August).
Part of their reasoning is that an accounting assistant could provide front office and data entry support that would allow existing staff (including Thomas) to work uninterrupted.
Steve Diepenbrock, who has taken over as chair or the Budget Advisory committee, asked the board to approve the nomination of four new members to the committee. Depenbrock said that the committee’s primary focus is on energy conservation and future renewable energy production and on producing a budget narrative, which they are working with Thomas to produce in about a month.
The board asked Scott Lancaster to work with the Budget Advisory Committee to develop subcommittee protocol, and then moved to appoint the four nominees: Carol Sutton, Sam Windsor, Dave Parish and Nancy Loomis.
The board had been advised to revise their agenda so that the executive sessions take place during the regular meeting, rather than before the meeting. This decision involves a policy change, so Harris was instructed to come back with a revised policy for the board to approve at the next meeting.
The next district board meetings are a special education workshop on April 2 and a special budget meeting on April 17 at 3:30 p.m. It is hoped that budget figures will be available from the State by then.