Budget impasse may delay school

School could be out for summer longer than planned for students in Hood River County School District.

Depending on last Friday’s Legislative Special Session, the school district might delay the 2002-03 school year four days later than planned, making Sept. 9 the first day of school.

The current schedule brings students back on Sept. 3.

The later start would be one outcome should the Legislature fail to override Gov. John Kitzhaber’s budget vetoes in Salem Aug. 16. Action of the scheduled one-day Special Session was unavailable at press time.

Yet whenever school opens, no further job or program cuts are in sight, according to Superintendent Jerry Sessions.

“We’re going to run our fall programs,” said Sessions, who is starting his second year with the district. “Right now we’ll go with what we’ve got until the second semester and then probably make adjustments as needed.”

Without the veto overrides, the school district stands to lose an additional $1.9 million in the 2002-03. Sessions said that at least until the second semester no further job cuts are planned. Also, classroom programs will be sustained, and athletics and activities will go on as planned.

If the district needs to make up for further shortfalls, the district would take the remaining $250,000 in its land acquisition fund and put it into the general fund, as well as starting four days later.

“We’d take the whole thing,” he said of the land fund. “We’d have to cut the land acquisition fund and not put money back in. But if we cut programs it would same thing. The way the budget is, we can’t put money back into them.”

“You try to protect the kids in the classroom. That’s the goal of the board and the administrative team,” Sessions said.

If the Legislature fails to override, the district will declare a budget emergency and start school Sept. 9. No decision will be made on whether or not to delay, or on other budget impacts, until the board’s next scheduled meeting, Aug. 28, according to Sessions. (The four days would be made up later in the school year, and any delay would have no effect on the teachers’ contract, Sessions said.)

Sessions said that if school is delayed, the district will begin informing parents when registration starts next week at the school buildings.

Two weeks ago, Kitzhaber announced his veto of two Legislative bills: the school payment bill, which would double the first payment in the next budget period and allow schools to borrow against it this fiscal year; and the bonding bill, which would provide as much as $225 million in revenue bonds backed by an increased cigarette tax.

In another school budget development, the board plans to enter discussions with the county Board of Commissioners over the proposed closure of Cascade Locks High School. Last spring, the district announced it is considering turning Cascade Locks School into a K-8 facility, meaning high school students would attend Hood River Valley or other high schools. Sessions proposed the measure as a way to cut costs at Cascade Locks, where enrollment has generally declined in recent years for grades 9-12.

No decision has been made on the issue, and Sessions said the district welcomes the county’s overture.

“We need to explore all options,” he said. He will send a letter to the board requesting an administrative-level meeting.

The Aug. 5 letter from the commissioners acknowledged the schools’ fiscal concerns driving the Cascade Locks question, but stated “we also understand the concerns raised by the residents of Cascade Locks, and how the loss of a local school will most certainly have substantial social, cultural and economic impacts upon that community.

“In recognition of these concerns, we encourage you to continue those discussions in an atmosphere of concern and compassion, and to explore all available alternatives that could provide for the the continued existence of the high school,” the letter states.

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