School board to vote on a $16 million, no-cuts budget

Riding on another successful fundraiser by the schools foundation, the Vashon Island School District is poised to pass a no-cuts budget for the 2012-2013 school year.

At a budget hearing tomorrow evening, the school board is expected to approve a $16.1 million spending plan, which includes funds to continue existing programs and replace all retiring teachers. Also before the board is approval of a $30.7 million capital projects budget.

The Vashon Island Schools Foundation raised about $426,000 in donations and pledges during its three-month fundraising campaign, falling short of its $500,000 goal. It is still accepting pledges.

“It would be good to get up to the half-million mark, but we’ve raised most of it,” said Donna Nespor, the foundation’s part-time administrator and a founding board member. She noted that the foundation raised more by July this year than it did last year. About $87,000 came from Island businesses, and about 40 percent of district families donated to the cause.

“In this economy, to be able to raise that kind of money, we feel really good about it,” she said.

Had the foundation raised the full $500,000, Nespor said, it could have helped more with extracurricular programs. Fees for sports, elective classes and other programs will increase slightly next year.

“We would like to be able to provide more funding to enrichment programs and reduce fees kids have to pay — band, drama, Camp Waskowitz. We did not get to the full goal to do that,” she said.

The $16.1 million operating budget, up from $15.5 million last year, also allows the district to extend the high school’s career and technical education (CTE) program to the middle school, increase its reserves, restore donation money spent on operating costs when funds were tight and add the equivalent of two full-time staff positions, something school district business manager Tom Dargel said is to support minor program changes across the district.

The district’s capital projects fund saw the largest increase, from $20.3 million to a budgeted $30.7 million. Dargel said the 50 percent increase is to cover construction costs immediately following the completion of the new high school and technology upgrades at other school buildings.

Superintendent Michael Soltman, who took a 3 percent, state-mandated pay cut last year, will see his salary, including fringe benefits, increase from $142,027 to $149,350, slightly less than he made two years ago. School principals who took the same cut last year will also see their salaries restored.

“We want to try and be fair,” said Bob Hennessey, a school board member. “Nobody’s getting any increase (compared to two years ago), but we’re trying to be very sensitive to morale and the reality that people have to make a living.”

Dargel said the district would still like to see enrollment increase, bringing more state dollars to the schools. Off-Island enrollment continues to rise, but the budget projects there will be about 20 fewer students in Vashon schools next year.Dargel said Vashon, like many school districts, is seeing a drop in enrollment in lower grades.

“We have less input down at the bottom,” he said. “We need more kids.”

Dan Chasan, chair of the school board, said he expected the budget to pass with ease. “If the fundraising hadn’t been successful, if the Legislature had cut back schools, if we really had to decide, then you’d see a lot more agonizing,” he said.

Hennessey said he hopes to initiate a discussion about  funding a summer school program next year.

A small, volunteer summer school recently faltered after teachers raised concerns about it being a tutoring program as opposed to summer classes taught by teachers. Hennessey believes the district should offer a full program next summer and said there may be a motion tomorrow to find the money to do so.


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