There was good news and bad news at Wednesday evening's school board meeting, which focused on the revised budget recommendations for the 2011-12 school year.
One bit of good news was that Gov. John Kitzhaber's budget for next year's state school funding will apparently translate into $500,000 more for our district than was originally expected.
"Based on the new numbers we have, we now know that we have to cut $3 million from our budget, which is a better picture than the $3.5 million that we saw just a month and a half ago," said Charlie Beck, Hood River County School District Superintendent.
The other good news was that with Beck's new, more transparent budget planning system, people's voices were heard and incorporated into the revised budget recommendations.
"As we go through this evening you'll see that we really did listen to what the public had to say," Beck said. "We listened to what the teachers and principals and all of the other people who have a stake in what we're doing had to say. We still had some very difficult decisions to make but we tried to incorporate what we heard."
As a result of what Beck and the rest of the administration heard from the three community budget forums, the online questionnaire and heavy written submissions, as well as direct conversations, the following changes were made to the initial budget reduction recommendations:
• Add back all-day kindergarten
• Add back approximately half of the elementary PE and music specialist positions
• Add back 5.8 of the original 10 building-level classified position reductions
• Increase reductions in funding for high school athletics from 10 percent to 20 percent
• Increase reductions of certified staff from 4.5 to 5.0 FTE (full time equivalent), a result of balancing student-to-teacher ratios
New to the list of reductions were two items:
• Discontinue Dos Mundos charter school at Westside Elementary, but maintain dual language programs
• Discontinue grades 6-8 in Cascade Locks; continue to support the efforts of the charter school committee to design and implement a 6-12 charter school in Cascade Locks
Even though some people were able to see positive changes, however slight, in the recommendations - such as the adding back of all-day kindergarten and some of the elementary PE and music instruction - there was still a lot of bad news in there.
One thing that didn't change from the original list of budget reduction recommendations was the repurposing of Pine Grove School: transferring its students to Mid Valley Elementary and moving the Frankton School programs to Pine Grove.
"Of all the decisions we made, that's the one we agonized over the most," Beck said. "We would agonize for four or five hours, go away and come back to the same agony - just days of trying to figure it out."
Beck said that even factoring in the necessary alterations in the Pine Grove building to accommodate the special needs of some of the Frankton students, it was still more cost-effective to go that route.
"It's a horrible decision," Beck said. "It's the worst I've ever had to make."
Other reductions that were unchanged from the initial list of recommendations were the elimination of the General Fund-funded Teacher On Special Assignment (TOSA) position, a computer support technician, a district maintenance position, 1.5 administrator positions, a district office confidential position, two middle school teachers, two child development specialists, 0.6 classified positions at Community Ed, and all General Fund funding of middle school sports.
The decision to discontinue the Dos Mundos charter school at Westside Elementary came after the school district received a letter from the Dos Mundos board Feb. 17 saying it had voted unanimously to permanently withdraw its request for renewal of the Dos Mundos Charter.
"In short, the Dos Mundos Board feels that the program outlined by Supt. Beck for the continuation of dual-language in our district represents the best opportunity to avail the greatest number of students to dual language with the least impact to the students and the district," the letter read.
The Dos Mundos board also recommended that an advisory board be created to assist the district in refining and developing its dual-language program, and offered to prepare a proposal for the structure and function of such a board.
Beck wants to put together teams right away to figure out the best way to transition the Pine Grove move, the Dos Mundos dissolution, the reduction in district specialists and other adjustments that will need to be made before next year.
"We have a need to get started," he said. "We've moved the timeline forward on the entire budget process because we believe we owe it to employees, parents and the community to be able to plan around what we're going to have to do, and to plan around what this district looks like next year.
Beck said his revised recommendations constitute a plan that will help the Hood River County School District reach its goal of living within its revenue, so it can "get back to talking about teaching kids.
"That's what we think we've done," he said.