Haines schoolHaines’ interim superintendent had a warning for school board members Tuesday night: if the school district continues on its current spending path, it could use up its entire savings in two years.

Just like school board budget talks last year, things are looking bleak.

“It’s not sustainable. It just isn’t,” said Superintendent Rich Carlson “And again, I really think that I have an obligation to bring you that bad news.”

Let’s talk about the numbers. Right now, the district expects to have about $4.7 million in revenue for next school year. The majority is state funding based on student numbers. The projected enrollment for next year is 260 – a decrease from this year’s 277. That number is based on conversations school administrative staff have with families to tally who’s staying and who’s leaving.

The predicted drop in enrollment means $315,000 less for the district. That hurts when expenditures are expected to be about $4.9 million. The disparity between revenue and expenses leaves the district with a $290,000 deficit.

Right now, the board doesn’t plan on big reductions to spending to make up that deficit. Instead, it’ll dip into reserves. That will cut the district’s savings down from about $830,000 at the end of this fiscal year to about $540,000 at the end of next.

Carlson said that if they have to do that again in FY18, the savings will get whittled down to zero.

“I don’t really know how to wrap my head around what we can do less of,” Board member Sara Chapell said. “Can someone help me?”

“I think that’s a valid point,” Carlson replied. “I think that’s one of the reasons I wanted to show you that. I think it’s a matter of hard discussions and looking at priorities of the district and where you need to go.”

Carlson said the only cuts that could really deal with the kind of deficit the district may face are in staffing.

This year, the district is cutting one staff position – technology integration specialist Sara Hadad. The new position was created by former Superintendent Ginger Jewell last year, to help teachers utilize new computers, iPads and SMARTboards.

But since the job was funded with federal grant money that’s needed to pay for professional development, Carlson says it can’t be long-term.

“[Hadad] did a very good job,” Carlson said. “I think we’re ready to move on. What removing that position does allow us to do, in addition to freeing up some money, granted, is to free up some Title 2 money to use in an appropriate fashion for staff development.”

Carlson emphasized that the budget is a ‘moving target.’ Unexpected changes could happen with the state, the borough, student enrollment.

In fact, the day before the workshop, leaders in the state Senate proposed a bill that would increase the financial burden on school districts to support state pension systems. Carlson said it would mean a $125,000 increase for the Haines school district. But he says the backlash that bill has received may quash it.

Board president Anne Marie Palmieri says having a healthy reserve allows the district to not make any drastic cuts this year. But next year, they may have no choice but to chop programs or staff.