Superintendent Tony Habra showed how the projected deficit would effect the general fund balance if that was the only resource used to offset the deficit. (Tony Habra)

The Haines School is facing a tough reality. With a looming budget deficit anticipated for next year, the district is looking at a combination of cuts and dipping into savings to compensate. And, they’re looking for input from the public as they decide what stays and what goes. But, the first community meetings this week were sparsely attended.

Last week, the district found out they’ll likely be getting less state funding than expected for the coming school year. Right now, they’re looking at nearly a half-million dollar deficit. And, even if the district wiped out all of its reserves, it wouldn’t be quite enough to cover the shortfall.

Superintendent Tony Habra met with the public to explain the situation and gather community input as administrators move forward with the budget process.

“Our option is to find some way to adjust to the new reality of less money. And that means probably reductions and spending of some of our savings,” said Habra.

Habra asked the handful of community members that came to the first meeting a series of questions to help prioritize as they decide on reductions. One question was ‘when are we at our best?’

“I think that we’re at our best when we have a lot of opportunities,” said Pam Long. “And when we have a lot of diverse opportunities for our children. Everyone needs something different.”

Long was one of just two community members that spoke up at the meeting. The other, Alissa Koverdan, said the school is at its best when spirits are high and stress is low.

“I would say when the teachers are happy about learning and the kids are happy about going to school,” said Koverdan. “And no one is under stress about finding supplies to teach the kids.”

The biggest factor effecting funding right now is school enrollment. The number of students decreased this year and, by a conservative estimate, the district is expecting to lose another 10 students next year.

“Our entire budget is based on our enrollment. School districts don’t really have a way of raising funds. We have what we get based on how many students we have,” said Habra.

State revenue could increase if the number of students in the district exceeds expectations. That’s what happened this year, meaning the school had to use less of its savings than anticipated despite the decease is students.

But that is a best case scenario. As they look toward making cuts, Habra asked what is most important to keep. Koverdan said anything that involves hands-on learning should stay.

Long said it’s also important to focus on teacher retention, recognizing that they may be facing a heavier workload depending on what gets cut.

“Having professional development,” said Long. “And I think that the next step to a program for the student is a program that makes our teachers and administrators and staff happy – not just happy but fulfilled and having what they need so that they can then provide and fulfill what we ask them to do.”

Finally, Habra asked how the community thinks they should move forward.

“Look at the easy ways of cutting costs,” said Koverdan. “And see about where – other resources of finding extra, where the moneys can come from,” said Koverdan. “Searching that out. Not necessarily just cutting things just to save money.”

As for how the administration proceeds, there are still a few factors they’re waiting on – contract negotiations, insurance costs, and legislative action affecting the state budget.

And, Habra hopes the community will continue to provide input. The second meeting of the night didn’t even happen because of lack of attendance. But, the public can still leave comments through an online survey.

Habra says that will help the administrative team as they make decisions about the budget.