Schools plan $2.5M in cuts

Hood River County School District is looking at budget deja vu and the picture is just as dreary as one year ago.

Interim school superintendent Rick Eggers stood for a half hour Wednesday night spelling out the proposed $2.5 million in budget cuts that could come in 2003-04.

High school swimming, tennis, golf, cross country, skiing, and lacrosse — out of the budget.

One maintenance person — cut.

District-wide textbook adoption — cut.

One-fourth of Rick Eggers’ job — cut.

All these are part of a list totalling $1.3 million, items that are all but certain to be cut. Those decisions await deliberation by the budget committee and final approval by the School Board.

“Most of these things are short term solutions, to get us by a year, and are not intended nor do they lend themselves to being a long term solution,” Eggers said Thursday.

Another $1.2 million would need to be cut if voters disapprove a “Local Option” levy that the district will consider putting on the Sept. 16 ballot. Those cuts would include five days of instruction.

Under the Local Option, some taxpayers would see an average increase of about $1.33 per thousand in their property tax bill. The increase would affect taxpayers who are below the cap of $5 per thousand allowed for education taxing districts.

The Local Option has not been formally proposed to the school board or budget committee.

The first meeting of the budget committee will be at Hood River Valley High School library at 7 p.m. on May 6. Eggers announced the meeting location change on Thursday. High attendance is anticipated, and the library will hold more people than the district office board room, where the meetings are held traditionally.

“Any time you have to cut $2.5 million you’ll have a lot of people who will get upset. We’re hoping the Local Option will help limit those (cuts),” said Eggers, who stepped into the superintendent’s job after former school chief Jerry Sessions resigned. Eggers placed part of his own job on the chopping block under the proposed budget.

Eggers plans to formally retire in June and return for one year or more to his original position as assistant superintendent — on a three-quarter-time basis — yielding a $25,000 savings (reflecting salary, benefits and other costs.)

Eggers’ is not the only administrative position to be sliced in 2003-04: fellow assistant superintendent Marcia LaDuke would have 10 days’ removed from her contract, for a $5,500 savings.

Cuts to personnel are few, under the plan presented by Eggers, and other cuts come primarily to supplies, training, technology purchases, and other support expenses. (See sampling of cuts, this page.)

The state school revenue forecast is as grim and hazy now as it was a year ago, Eggers said, putting even the task of assembling a proposed budget more than a month behind schedule.

The 2003-04 budget is based on the worst-case scenario of $4.5 billion state revenue for schools, though estimates put the figure as high as $5.5 billion.

“We could have made this real easy; we could have taken the $5.5 billion figure to build the budget and then come back to you in September and say, ‘what do we cut?’” Eggers said.

“We tried to build a budget and cuts so that if we get more money, the issue is how do we put things back. We’ve got that built into the process,” he said.

As recently as a few years ago, the district would have been near to wrapping up its budget process by late April.

This year, it’s pencil and eraser time. Business manager Gwen Gardner’s spreadsheets have repeatedly been crumpled.

“We’re trying to get the most relevant information we can get,” said Eggers during the school board meeting at Mid Valley Elementary.

Eggers’ successor, Dr. Pat Evenson-Brady, attended and was formally recognized by the board following signing of her contract last week. She is a former assistant superintendent with the district.

“I’m just plain glad to be coming back to Hood River County schools,” said Evenson-Brady, who has resigned her job as Region 9 Education Service District.

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