Enrollment drop anticipated in Sunnyside schools

General fund budget grows to $60 million-plus

It seems like a contradiction, at first glance.

The Sunnyside School District's preliminary 2007-08 budget shows the lowest student enrollment since 2005, yet more staffers on board than at any time during the past three years.

Current budget predictions show Sunnyside with a total enrollment of 5,477 heading into the new school year, down nearly 200 from the 2006-07 total of 5,630 and lower still than 2005-06's enrollment of 5,487.

Conversely, the total number of certificated and classified employees is budgeted for 653 during the next school year, up from 644 in 2006-07 and 605 the year before.

What gives?

Take a closer look, says Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole, and the numbers actually show that the district had to let 12 teachers go from last year because of the waning student enrollment.

"We cut about 11 teachers out of the elementary schools and one out of the middle schools because the enrollment wasn't matching up with the grade levels," Cole said.

Cole attributed the rising number of staffers to the expansion of state-funded pre-school and kindergarten programs in the district.

As far as declining student enrollment, Cole says it's largely due to a decrease in the number of migrant workers in the area. Last spring, for example, there was a shortage of about 30,000 migrant workers to work in the fields around the Lower Valley.

The teaching cuts, especially at the elementary school level, has the district a "little anxious", Cole said, in the event more students enroll than anticipated.

By union agreement, the district has a limit on how many students they can put in each classroom. The average ranges from 23 students per classroom in kindergarten through second grade, to 31 at the high school level.

Cole says there is a pool of "teachers in the wings" if the district needs to ramp up staff levels.

With the general fund set for just under $60.5 million-which is about $2.3 million more than last year-the 2007-08 school year will see a significant increase in funding special programs from $42,000 in 2006-07 to $212,692 this year.

Angela Watts is the district's business manager, and says the five-fold increase stems from additional state monies to provide additional training for math and science teachers.

"Because of a shortage of science and math teachers, what the state is trying to do is provide additional funding for training," Watts explained.

A revised draft of the 2007-08 budget was just completed this week and will be presented to the Sunnyside School Board for action on Thursday, Aug. 30.

Salaries of certificated employees account for about 41 percent ($25.8 million) of the budget, followed by employee benefits and payroll taxes at 20 percent ($12.5 million) and classified staff salaries at 16 percent ($10.4 million).

The district anticipates revenues of $62.8 million during the 2007-08 school year.

Though the district has a budget in hand to start the school year, Cole said staffers will be crunching enrollment numbers well into September.

"We basically have a 10-day window when we look at trends," Cole said of student enrollment to start the school year. "The Friday after Labor Day will be the time with the most accurate numbers."

Based on those tallies the district will adjust classroom and staff levels accordingly, he said.

Other funds set for the 2007-08 budget are the ASB ($537,090), debt service ($1.8 million), capital projects ($22.5 million) and transportation ($700,000).


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