Murals depicting pioneers and fruit workers loomed in the Hood River Valley High School library, where the budget committee of the Hood River Valley School District began its own arduous work this week.
“This is a dynamic process,” superintendent Rick Eggers said Tuesday. “This is a budget proposal, and based on recommendations by the budget committee we can change it. That’s how the process works.” Eggers spoke to an audience of 75 people in what will be the first of four public meetings on the proposed $29.43 million general fund budget for the 2003-04 school year. The budget committee must consider up to $2.5 million in cuts next year, but it heard the outline of a plan for a Local Option tax that would limit the cuts to $1.2 million. The property tax would be on the Sept. 16 ballot. Eggers stressed that no Local Option proposal has yet gone to school board.
Budget committee chairman Craig Mallon reiterated at the Tuesday meeting that no public comment would be taken, as the committee is a month behind schedule in starting the budget review since the state was slow in providing revenue figures for 2003-04.
“We have the same time line, and we have to work very quickly from here on out,” Mallon said.
Public comment opportunities start Tuesday. The committee meets again on May 20 and May 27. By June 3 the committee must reach a recommendation to pass on to the school board, which must adopt a budget by June 30. All sessions start at 7 p.m. at the HRVHS library.
Without a Local Option, the district would reduce elementary music and physical education by half, and Eggers said those programs would receive top priority if the Local Option passes.
Eggers said Tuesday the budget is based on a $4.5 billion state education budget, though forecasts put the figure as high as $5.5 billion — a figure many school districts are using in preparing their 2003-04 budgets.
“To project more (than $4.5 billion) at this point in time would not be fiscally prudent,” Eggers said.
Student Christy Paul said, “It’s good (the district) is being conservative and expecting the worst because if it turns out better then everyone will be happier. But as far as the cuts they made, they didn’t really take into account the thoughts of students, parents and community.”
However, HRVHS co-principal Steve Fisk said, “We’ve heard from an awful lot of folks in the building, including kids.” Fisk said school adminstrators “spent a great deal of time disagreeing with one another” while reaching a “consensus decision after looking at all the things we do for kids and at what we had.”
Much of the focus of Tuesday’s meeting fell on funding of the high school, and athletic programs in particular. Athletic director Mitch Sanders said the athletic budget has dropped from $377,000 in 2001-02 to a proposed $228,000 in 2003-04, with cuts coming mainly in supplies, equipment replacement, and coaching.
Six sports will be cut from the general fund next year: swimming, golf, cross country, tennis, lacrosse, and skiing, though Sanders said the district will try to keep them as club sports — the district would pay for transportation but not coaches’ pay.