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Community Ed faces the axe

School district budget committee hears pleas to fund program in 2013-14

The next school year will have a linoleum budget for Hood River County School District. Basic carpeting might be available later.

“You are looking at a budget that is the floor,” Supt. Charlie Beck told the district budget committee Monday in its meeting at Hood River Valley High School.

The committee, which is comprised of board members and citizens, will meet again at 6:30 p.m. May 28 at HRVHS library. Public comment will be taken. The committee reviews the budget and makes a recommendation for the board to adopt, by June 26 at the latest.

Beck said the district budget is based on the state Department of Revenue forecast of $6.55 billion for schools statewide, and that if the Legislature accepts the $6.75 billion revenue forecast, as favored by Oregon School Boards Association and other education groups, the district stands to receive about $200,000 more in 2013-14.

The $39.95 million district budget for 2013-14 includes $655,950 in cuts — including a total of four teaching and classified staff positions spread over K-12, and a total of four Special Education positions.

The cuts are about half what were proposed last month, but the district administration spent the past week retooling the budget after getting word on May 11 from the state Department of Education that it would receive another $2.07 million over the next two years. The proposed budget is based on levying the full $1.25 per $1,000 allowed under the Local Option; it is up to the budget committee to decide the exact Local Option amount it will seek within that limit.

The budget reduction receiving the most comment Monday was the proposed removal of $80,000 in general fund money from Community Education.

School board and committee members expressed concerns over the impact on the program, as did a number of local residents. No other subject was addressed in the public comment period.

“In the end analysis it’s imperative that you keep Community Education alive,” said Fred Duckwall, a former school board member, who presented a 250-signature petition in favor of funding the program.

In addition, former superintendent Chuck Bugge presented a letter he wrote along with former superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady, founding Community Ed director Mike Schend and Duckwall, advocating for the program.

“We propose that a realistic full-year budget be developed which will sustain the program,” the letter stated. “With board and administrative support, dedicated leadership and quality programs, this important community program will be successful in the future.

“It is our belief that retaining a healthy Community Education program is a valuable asset to the school district and especially the community,” the letter stated. It suggested eight ways the district can fund the program for the long-term, including annual financial review, developing business partnerships and establishment of an advisory board “to advocate for the program and provide both community and district support.”

(Full text of the letter will be published in the May 25 edition.)

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On the subject of overall state revenue forecasts as it affects the local budget, committee member Chip Dickenson asked, “What could happen that could lead the revenue to go the other way?”

Beck replied, “All the indicators say the revenue will go up. Right now there isn’t anything on the horizon that would cause a deep downturn in revenue. The minimum PERS reform in place doesn’t give us a huge bump but one we have taken into consideration here.

“The potential is that we will add to this budget; but we are not comfortable budgeting to a higher level until we see what happens. This is a practical budget that gets us to sustainability with the revenue we have, with the understanding that in all probability not only will we save more this year but in the next year revenue will look better.”

The proposed budget is based on the $6.55 billion forecast, Beck said, because “there are enough unknowns out there that they are uncomfortable to us for budgeting.”

Finance Director Nick Hogan said, “This is probably different than it was a week ago. It is less cuts than in the package, but it is still some significant cuts by the time we’re done, in personnel.” (Hogan’s resignation was announced in the school board meeting that followed.)

Beck said state legislative leaders are characterizing the revenue forecasts as “the most positive we have seen,” but the district budget is “at worst-case scenario; it should be positive from here.”

Committee member Mikka Irusta, a kindergarten teacher at Mid Valley, questioned elementary schools taking what she viewed as “a larger hit,” with 2.7 positions (1.5 licensed and 1.2 classified) proposed for cutting out of the eight classroom positions (not including first Special Education).

Beck had said in his introduction that “the first thing we do is look at school district goals; number one is accountability around professional learning communities and make sure every child is prepared for post-secondary and career readiness.”

Board member Liz Whitmore asked, “What was the overall strategic thinking?” on the proposed budget.

Beck said, “We asked each representative in expanded cabinet to go back and talk with their groups, and gave them approximately what we were going to have to look at in reductions, and come back to us with their best thinking on what they thought we were looking at.

“And so the initial reductions were kind of the best thinking of all of the administrators, funneled through the smaller group into us. We did a modified a version of that when the $2 million came in, and said, based on that, ‘What should our add-backs be?’

“The unfortunate piece is we did not have a lot of time to process that out,” he said, “so I’m not real comfortable that we’ve put back exactly what we thought each of the administrators would have ... but we sat down and thought of what would make the most sense. We tried to take into consideration as much of their feedback as we could.

“We have the best thinking of the group that we could, but I am sure there are all kinds of folks in the group who would say, ‘My position isn’t accurately reflected here,’ he said. “We tried to reflect at least what we heard from everyone there. No one is happy. Everyone is ... okay.”

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