School board considers $900,000 in cuts next year

The District 55 School Board received a list of $900,000 in proposed budget cuts for next school year, including 8.25 teacher positions and other staff time, Monday night at its regular meeting.

The cuts include one teacher each at Foster, Hawthorne and Holley, along with 2.5 PE teaching positions in all elementary schools and a full-time elementary counselor; but the proposal also increases Oak Heights teaching staff by one.

Under the proposal, elementary schools will each reduce classified hours by five per week. Media assistants will cut five days. The Positive Behavior System coordinator position will be eliminated. Other cuts include shifting after-school activities to grants to save $10,000 and a reduction in swimming activities for a total elementary cut of $378,500.

Sweet Home Junior High would reduce its staff by one teacher with a half-time alternative education assistant reduction. Other cuts would include discretionary funds, technology spending and supplies and materials for a total reduction of $93,500.

Sweet Home High School proposes a cut of 1.75 teaching positions, a full-time education assistant and a department head designation. Other cuts include discretionary funds, technology reductions, supplies and materials, sports reductions and swimming activities. Sports reductions include sending only a single bus to football games, cutting trips to Astoria and Tillamook and coaching reductions. The total cut at the high school would be $187,000.

Transportation proposes cutting the purchase of a new bus and consolidating routes for an $83,000 cut. If the district were to spend the $68,000 required to purchase a bus, the Oregon Department of Education would normally reimburse 70 percent of that expense.

Maintenance proposes cutting .8 full-time equivalent positions, discontinuing its spraying program and hiring only essential subs for a spending cut of $66,900.

The Central Office proposes $54,700 in cuts, including a part-time secretary in the superintendent’s office and staff development in the curriculum and instruction office.

In food services, the district is proposing a total cut of $37,700, mostly by reducing its offerings. Hiring only essential subs will save approximately $3,000.

The cuts were distributed proportionately across the district, Supt. Larry Horton said.

The board will meet with administrators in a work session at 5:30 p.m. on April 13 and “that’ll be part of the discussion,” Horton said. “I’m hoping that will be sufficient.”

There will be more discussion about whether $100,000 transfers to long-term maintenance and the teachers’ early retirement program, which were among $300,000 in cuts for this year, will continue to be unbudgeted next year.

“Right now, we’re going to be able to complete this school year without reducing any days,” Business Manager Kevin Strong said, even though other districts are looking at cutting the length of their school year.

By June 30, Strong believes the district will keep its expenditures less than 1 percent over last year’s, he said, but the district will have to tighten the belt next year.

The district is facing two problems, he said. First is declining enrollment. Second is the economy.

As of Monday, the district was down 108 students from last year and nine from last month. The district is down by about 206 from December 2005.

“In the past three years, we’ve actually added staff,” Strong said. Even without the current state of the economy, the district would be looking at cuts as it stops acting like a 2,500-student district and more like a 2,200-student district.

House District 17 Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, vice chairwoman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, told the board she is opposing unfunded mandates from the state to help keep costs from rising.

“One of the drums I’ve been pounding consistently is all the good ideas that come across the desk,” she said. “They’re good ideas, but can we ask (districts) to pay for it when they’ve got people going out the back door.”

She supported accessing the Education Stability Fund, she said, but that was turned down, which means it will be additional funding for next year.

The Legislature is working on reducing the reporting requirements on teachers and districts, she said. The ODE has about five single-spaced pages of reporting requirements. A new bill that came with a reporting requirement has already had that requirement stricken.

The state does have some small grant funds available to help with small improvements, she said, and the Legislature is considering raising the minimum project size above $50,000 for two years only for school districts to receive an exemption from prevailing wage requirements.

The prevailing wage requirement is something that has stopped an energy efficiency project in this district, Strong said, so that would be helpful locally.

“I appreciate what you’re doing because it’s tough times,” Sprenger told the board. “My son is an elementary student now and attends the smallest school in our district.”

Those schools often end up taking the big cut that saves the district, she said. “I’ve got a dog in the fight.”

Horton said the district would send letters to teachers to notify them of the reduction in force, but he and the board are hoping to make their cuts without laying off teachers, if possible.

One way to do that will be to offer a one-time incentive to teachers who retire. The board told Horton to discuss the idea with the teachers union.

The district has 10 teachers eligible for retirement, Horton said. None of them have submitted paperwork saying they will retire. Offering them a $5,000 one-time bonus for retiring might be enough incentive for them to retire, reducing the number of teachers who will need to be laid off.

It could save the district between $5,000 and $15,000, Horton said. The district would at least break even on the expense.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now among teachers that could retire,” Sweet Home Education Association President Dan Swanson said. “The market is volatile.”

“We may find there’s no interest,” Horton said.