School budget: The question of what to keep

The figure $5.05 billion sounds positively enormous compared to $150 million.

The first number is the working figure in the 2003-05 state School Budget, under an Oregon House bill passed last week. The second figure is the amount of money the state technically has to fund programs — overall — in its coffers as of Tuesday morning, given the Legislature’s impasse over a biennial budget.

What’s at stake for Hood River County Schools are cuts totalling $765,000 that the School Board is almost certainly going to need to make in its 2003-04 budget.

It may seem like a small amount, in a Dirksenian sense — the late Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen being famous for his 1960s observation, “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

But $765,000 is truly real money for this community, and it falls to a newly-assembled group of people to make the decision, should it come, of how to cut that much more from the already-strapped School District budget.

New school board members Karen Ostrye, Kathleen Malone and Ramona Ropek join second-year members Mike Oates and Patricia Schmuck and veterans Anne Saxby and Jan Veldhuisen Virk, the board president. At the newcomers’ second meeting, Aug. 13, they will be part of renewed discussions about how to cut more from the budget without causing harm to educational quality.

It should be noted that the 2003-04 school district budget was adopted with $1.3 million in revenue in a projected local option tax election. Because of uncertainty about the actual state revenue, a community committee recommended shelving the proposed local option tax election slated for September 2003. The School Board decided to take additional cuts if state funds were insufficient to backfill the items listed for the local option. It appears that task is now before them.

We wish all the school board, and new superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady and the administration patience and plenty of sleep as they work through this significant challenge.

Last week Evenson-Brady presented a range of potential cuts the board might consider; the options included cuts to the elementary physical education and music programs, which was brought forth in spring 2003 by interim superintendent Rick Eggers during 2003-04 budget preparations

Another of the options discussed last spring, switching to full-day kindergarten, will not be considered. “It’s not one we can do on short notice,” Evenson-Brady said.

However, there is another option the district should take off the table, that of cutting PE and music. The impassioned testimony of dozens of people — students, parents, and district employees — who last spring spoke out against those cuts clearly demonstrated the definitive importance of retaining those programs.

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