School Board sees bad budget picture

In the worst case anticipated so far, School District 55 could be looking at making another $431,000 in cuts for the next school year.

Last month, the District 55 School Board and administration outlined more than $900,000 in possible cuts to next year’s budget. With a moratorium on two $100,000 transfers saved for long-term maintenance and to fulfill the district’s obligations for the teachers’ early retirement program, the district has identified $1.16 million in cuts.

Business Manager Kevin Strong presented an April 9 letter from Gov. Ted Kulongoski and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo to the School Board Monday night. The letter recommended that schools base their budgets on a statewide education budget of $5.4 billion to $5.9 billion. The governor’s recommended budget was for $6.4 billion.

“While again, these are just estimates, it is important that you make informed budget decisions,” the letter said. “We must not overreact and make irreversible cuts, but we also must plan responsibly for greater budget shortfalls.”

On top of the $1.16 million, including approximately 9.5 teacher positions, already likely to be cut in next year’s budget, the district would need to cut just under another $1 million to balance the 2009-10 budget under the governor’s best-case scenario. Under his worst-case scenario, the district would be looking for another $431,000 in cuts.

To meet the best-case scenario, Strong outlined several potential cuts, including not increasing the Charter School enrollment cap, delaying textbook adoptions, lowering the district’s Public Employees Retirement System rate, reducing the licensed calendar, further reducing high school staffing, and several smaller cuts.

In the worst case, the high school also has an additional $130,000 in possible staffing reductions identified, Supt. Larry Horton said, leaving the district potentially another $300,000 in cuts to be identified.

In anticipation of laying off teachers, the School Board agreed to let Horton negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the teachers union to provide an incentive to teachers nearing retirement to go ahead and retire.

The negotiations were incomplete prior to Monday night’s board meeting, but waiting longer than another week to settle the issue would make it moot, so Horton asked the board to allow him to negotiate an agreement with the union to provide one of two types of incentives: a $5,000 one-time bonus or $37,000 in early retirement money as a lump sum.

Teachers who take use the early retirement program receive $37,000 over seven years. Instead of spreading out the payment; under one option, the teachers would receive the lump sum, Horton said.

The goal is to use retiring teachers to cut down the number of teachers who will be laid off, he said. As a cost savings mechanism, it would mean the district would not have to pay unemployment on laid-off teachers.

No matter what, Horton said, the district will end up spending the $37,000, either all at once or over seven years, per retiring teacher.

Sweet Home Education Association President Dan Swanson said he had heard back from three teachers out of 25 who might take advantage of the incentive.

One supported it, he said. One opposed it, and one was surprised to be on the list.

The union isn’t opposed to the idea, Swanson said. “We want to preserve all the jobs, of course, but we also see the financial changes.”

Still, he said, a $5,000 bonus is not a big incentive to someone who isn’t inclined to retire anyway, compared to working another year.

The School Board passed a motion 7-2 to allow Horton to negotiate the agreement with the union.

Voting yes were Dale Keene, Diane Gerson, Chairman Mike Reynolds, Leena Neuschwander, David VanDerlip, Jason Redick and John Fassler.

Jeff Lynn and Chanz Keeney voted no. Lynn said he didn’t favor cashing out early retirement payments at this time.

In other business, the board:

— Approved a 60-day ex-tension on negotiating a contract between the district and People Involved in Education for the Sweet Home Charter School.

It would not take the entire 60 days, Horton said. Only four issues remain between the district and PIE. Among them is whether to increase the Charter School’s enrollment cap, which is at 238 now. The Charter School is not at its cap.

Also, the district and Charter School are working on language regarding transportation, Horton said. The district will pick Charter School students up and bus them to a location near the school, typically the high school, when students live along a bus route.

— Learned that the District received $800 in tennis equipment at all eight schools and the Boys and Girls Club from the U.S. Tennis Association, including 30 racquets and tennis balls. In addition, Horton is applying Wednesday for $40,000 in grant funds from the U.S. Tennis Association. Of that total, $5,000 will come from the northwest area of the association.

Volunteer Jim Cota has contacted an engineer and Knife River, Horton said. He is ready to go when the district is to install new tennis courts. So far, the district has raised some $100,000 in donations toward the new courts. With the USTA grant, the district should be able to complete the work.

— Learned that as of 3 p.m. Monday, with the final inspection from the city, the new landing for the Husky Stadium grandstands is complete at a cost of about $87,000, with some architectural fees remaining to be settled.

The district budgeted $94,000 for the project, Horton said.

— Accepted the resignation of Holley School Principal and special education teacher Tiffanie Lambert, who is moving to Southern Oregon where her husband, Steve, has taken a new job.