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By JANET KNOWLES
Before moving to Orcas Island, we raised three daughters in the public school system. We watched as each year the school budget was reduced and electives like art and music were removed from the curriculum forcing us to supplement what had once been part of a school program. It was unsettling that what had at one time been such a rich learning environment had now become so basic in nature.
Every year we hear the dilemma on Orcas of "not enough state and federal funding" as Tony Ghazel recently writes. Or as Ms. Brownell says, "as enrollment dropped, the district did not make budgetary adjustments". As a former business manager and co-founder of a school for middle school girls and a board member at all public school levels, I question much of what I hear.
Budgets are created to account for revenue and anticipated expenditures. School budgets are 'need' and 'want' expenses but the line appears blurred in this district.
Based on my experiences, the Orcas Island School District has a huge staff and faculty for such a small school. A projected enrollment of 460 students and forty faculty positions translates to a ratio of 11.5 students per teacher. This ratio doesn't even include the 40 additional positions at the school for directors of various areas, counselors, speech, library and media specialists, para-educators (including 6 at the high school), physical therapist or office administrators. As a person familiar with overseeing both public and private budgeting, the OISD budget and the Orcas Island schools resemble an expensive private school model more closely than a public school. A large school can accommodate many of these supplemental positions by their sheer enrollment numbers but the Orcas school has become much too small to continue staffing at the current levels.
From a management perspective, how were 40.3 FTE staff paid when there were only 37.8 budgeted for? We have three senior administrators and a business manager and not one noticed this problem. The OISD consistently spends more money than budgeted. Just who is in charge?
What are some solutions to this problem? Staff will need to job-share or reduce hours or serve more than one job title. Ultimately staff needs to be reduced. This district needs to economize, become more efficient and creative to reduce its costs and to become fiscally responsible. Half-lights in classrooms and reducing the heat as proposed remedies are just not enough.
With fewer and fewer students, we are spending more and more money per student (and we can't even account for it). As taxpayers we are tired of hearing that the quality of education will suffer if programs are dropped. Study after study has shown that it's not the quantity of dollars spent on quality education but rather how these dollars are spent.
We are advocates for public schools and our children spent most of their years in public schools. What gets frustrating is to see such large administration and staff numbers in the schools while articles continue to appear that challenge the quality of the education here if cuts are made to the budget. As taxpayers we are tired of being asked to support additional taxes in a bond measure that supports a bloated administration that has no accountability.
Janet Knowles lives in Eastsound.