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District cuts teaching jobs

The proposed budget for the 2002-03 school year was presented to the Hood River County School Board Tuesday. And the tone of the message was, as Superintendent Jerry Sessions said, somber.

Business Manager Gwen Gardner waded through a sea of numbers in the 400-page budget document, highlighting major changes (read decreases) in next year's numbers.

But what most of the board members -- and the dozen other attendees -- wanted to hear about was the proposed personnel cuts.

What it boils down to is this: two full-time and one half-time teaching position, as well as one child development specialist position, will be eliminated at the elementary level; a half-time music position and a half-time media position will be eliminated at the middle school level; and one social studies position, a half-time media position, a half-time shop position and a one-third time math position will disappear at the high school.

"The fact that you'll see staff cuts in the budget" reflects the grim financial picture of public education in Oregon, Sessions said.

"We believe that people are the key to providing quality education," he said. "The fact we feel we have to look at cutting positions shows you how hard this budget was to develop." He added that "this process" is taking place not only in Hood River, but in school districts across the state.

"This is not a Hood River problem," he said. "This is a state problem."

Some of the staff teaching positions will disappear through attrition -- where staff members are retiring or resigning voluntarily and the vacant positions will not be filled. Others represent formerly full-time positions that are being reduced to less than that. A few are straight cuts due to reduction in funding.

Other cuts highlighted by Gardner include the elimination of the Prime Time program at Parkdale Elementary and a diesel mechanic position from the maintenance department. A vice principal position at the high school -- Athletic Director Glenn Elliott's -- also is being eliminated.

Absent from the proposed budget was any increase in the athletic budget to account for the pending move of Hood River Valley High School from the Mt. Hood Conference to the Intermountain Conference -- which would increase annual athletics-related costs by an estimated $30,000. District officials are appealing to the State Board of Education for a two-year stay on the decision to move HRV. A meeting was held Thursday in Salem but no decision had been made at press time.

Craig Mallon, serving as alternate presiding officer of the budget committee, requested that comments from the audience be held until the next meeting. But several attendees were given the opportunity to speak and addressed the proposed cut of the elementary level child development specialist.

"If we were cutting a sports program, this room would be full to overflowing," said school psychologist Rod Windle. "The parents of at-risk kids (we serve) are the parents who aren't here." He asked the board to consider the "important but invisible work" the district's child development specialists do.

Budget Committee member Mike Oates asked that input from school principals on how the cuts will affect their schools be brought to the next meeting.

"I want to know how those losses are going to affect their schools," he said.

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The next Budget Committee meeting is April 30, followed by a third one on May 7. Both meetings will be at 7 p.m. at the school district administrative offices at 1020 Montello Ave. The proposed budget -- with any amendments -- will be adopted by the end of June.

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