Schools stay on hold

State budget shortfalls delay 2002-03 start until Sept. 9

It’s official — school starts one week later for the Hood River County School District.

“I believe we have an emergency,” Superintendent Jerry Sessions told the School Board on Wednesday, in proposing the four-day delay.

Despite some opposition from parents and teachers, the board voted unanimously to postpone the opening of the 2002-03 year until Sept. 9.

“We have few options,” Sessions said. He said the district wants to avoid cutting out jobs or classroom programs.

School originally was to start Sept. 3, but the district will delay in order to save some costs in the face of more, and potentially massive, reductions in state school payments due to the continued decline in state revenue.

“We feel like the district is facing disastrous financial times and we’re trying to position ourselves as best we can for what we anticipate is the devastating news on our revenue picture,” Sessions said.

“The ambulance is on the way. You don’t wait until you’re in the hospital to take action. We have never been at greater risk,” he said.

The district has already cut $1.2 million from its 2002-03 budget, and could face cuts of about $2.4 million more, if Gov. John Kitzhaber’s latest projections of state revenue loss, totaling about $480 million, come to pass when the report is complete in late September, and if Measure 19 fails on the Sept. 17 ballot. Measure 19 would set up a $150 million “school stability fund.”

“If that’s not an emergency I don’t how how we’d define it,” said Gwen Gardner, district business manager.

Sessions said Friday, “If it comes in at $3 million we’re going to have to start talking more days.”

Kelvin Caulkins, president of the Hood River Education Association, the teacher’s union, argued Wednesday against the schedule change.

“This is about the integrity of the contract,” Caulkins said. “I believe this is a way to get around the obligation the district has to the association, and to the contract.

“We do expect to be paid in full for 190 days,” he said. “This is not a unilateral agreement.”

But assistant superintendent Rick Eggers told Caulkins, “no one has changed the number of days. We haven’t decided yet to cut anyone’s (contract) days.” Reducing contract days, or salaries, would require contract renegotiation.

District officials stressed that there will be no salary cuts for classified or certified employees, as a result of the decision to delay school, but that could change based on the September revenue report.

With the four-day start delay, the only cost savings to the district will be in operations, such as fuel, utilities, and food service.

“We’re trying to take care of our needs and still take care of our people,” Eggers said.

Parkdale music teacher Kathy Smith said she supports the board’s decision.

“I’d like to see everyone share in the cuts,” she said. “The best way is to start at the beginning of school.”

“I’m on the chopping block,” Smith said. “Elementary music is very important, not only am I concerned about my job but music is important to children.”

Bob Hutchinson, district maintenance supervisor, concurred.

“Four days is probably the best possible option,” he said. “I don’t think we should be getting in a position where we’re laying off people.”

Caulkins was not alone in his opposition. Parent Dave Waller asked the board, “why the four days now? Why not wait, if there is no difference in September paychecks or no savings.

“You say you don’t want impact on the classroom,” Waller said. “It seems to me a four-day delay is a direct affect on the classroom.”

Board member Anne Saxby replied, “if we start (Sept. 3) it will be seen as ‘business as usual,’ and look like everything is okay. We’ll be acting like we’re telling people, ‘don’t worry about it, it will be fine.’

“But we’re at a crossroads,” Saxby said. “We need real solutions. We need to make the case (that there is an emergency.) It’s a lot more effective to make that case now, when the state is dealing with (the budget crisis).”

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