Sagging enrollment forces teacher cuts


Six teachers, an outdoor environmental program and school librarian hours are the latest casualties from the island’s third consecutive year of declining public school enrollment.

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Ailing school budget forces teacher cuts
By Tristan Baurick

Sagging enrollment and rising fuel costs will likely force the Bainbridge Island School District to cut six teacher positions, reduce library staff hours and cancel a popular environmental science program.

“We’ve left no stone unturned in this process,” said Superintendent Ken Crawford. “But we are in the difficult position of eliminating teachers.”

The district is trying to make up for a $1.5 million budget shortfall caused by a 4 percent enrollment decline over the last two years and a 1.5 percent drop predicted for next year. The district’s money woes were also exacerbated by the state’s failure to provide financial support that keeps pace with the rising cost of gas, utilities and insurance.

As part of a 2008-2009 budget plan endorsed by the school board Thursday, the district will not renew the contracts of two Bainbridge High School English teachers and will cut four teachers from the middle and elementary school grades.

The equivalent of 1.5 special education teachers and four special education assistants will be cut, according to the plan.

District wide, a total equivalent of 11 positions would be eliminated.

Despite the reductions, classroom sizes will remain at about the same level as last year thanks, in part, to the loss of 90 students this school year and an expected 60 next year.
“Basically, our reductions in teaching staff are in-line with declining enrollment,” Crawford said.

The average class size in the elementary school grades will remain at 23 children per teacher. The middle and high school grades will hold steady at about 28 students per teacher.

“The lack of new (state) revenue, fuel costs and declining enrollment is, for us, a perfect storm,” he said.

While taking the teacher cuts in stride, a handful of parents at the school board meeting made an impassioned plea to save the district’s fourth-grade outdoor education program, which includes annual two-night trips to IslandWood and other environmental science centers.

“It’s life-changing for many, many kids,” said Cathy Sandford, the mother of a Wilkes Elementary student. “It allows kids to expand in so many ways.”

Erin Jennings, a Wilkes parent teacher organization member, proposed a parent-led fundraising effort to keep the program alive.

“We can’t hire teachers, but this program is something we can work towards and raise money for,” she said.

Crawford commended Jennings’ enthusiasm but stressed that fundraising to support the program should be focused on all elementaries rather than limited to Wilkes. He suggested parents also seek sponsorship from businesses to support the $32,500 program.

“We don’t have the staff to tap those sources, but energetic moms may be able to do that,” Crawford said.

The district also plans to shave about a quarter of the hours of three elementary school librarians. The librarian hours were cut, Crawford said, because the island’s three elementaries lost over 100 students when Sakai Intermediate School opened. Declining enrollment has also reduced the demands on librarians, he said.

One thought on “Sagging enrollment forces teacher cuts

  1. During the last levy run-up, we were pressed very hard with PR from BISD #303 front office, supporters and sympathetic unquestioning reporters (from the paper that rhynes with FUN and the paper that cares about BI) that we had completely outgrown our facilities. And that we needed more capacity. Oh, and the blog site that rhymes with FUZZ also did a great cheerleading job for passaage of an over-sold levy.

    No sooner had the ink dried on the ballots and we started to get reports from BISD #303 that the demographic estimate they produced was off. Since then we have seen consistent data points that BISD #303 population is dropping.

    What do we do if BI housing prices continue to price out young familites? What do we do with surplus schools property and capacity? I guess a start is keeping our teacher budget in trim to what the real school poplulation is and not what the spin is.

    If the Birkenstock fits ~~ wear it BISD.

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