School Board hears bleak fiscal picture

Dan Goldman

Dan Goldman

One percent, or five, is not enough, says Dan Goldman.

Costs are going up for schools: employees, utilities and fuel, insurance, and just about everything else in the Hood River County School District budget.

But the district must deal with $800,000 less in State School Funding for 2014-15, Supt. Goldman said Wednesday. He portrayed an unhappy fiscal picture in the Hood River County School District Board of Directors meeting at May Street School.

Goldman criticized the unpredictable Oregon education funding system, but also pointed the finger at himself. Further, Goldman told the board that the district is looking at a budget reserve of less than 1 percent in 2014-15, and that is too small a margin.

“Less than 1 percent puts us in an unbelievably precarious position,” Goldman said. “If anything happens, a pipe breaking, we’re going to have to deal with that.” It’s critical that the district achieve a 5 to 10 percent reserve, Goldman said, largely because the district needs it at that level for the sake of a positive bond rating, when future bond requests come before the taxpayers.

In addition, the district needs a reserve sufficient to ensure it makes payroll, particularly if the district faces an emergency.

“We have to get a responsible reserve. That’s going to take time. We can’t do it overnight,” Goldman said.

Goldman, in his first year as HRCSD superintendent, told the board that Oregon has dropped from the top 10 states for per student spending in 1992 to the bottom 15 in 2014.

“I think that is completely unacceptable,” Goldman said. “It makes me angry to look at it and it makes me angry to talk about it.”

He showed a chart indicating a 34 percent overall increase in state general fund and lottery spending since 2003-05, and increases of 43 to 71 percent for Human Resources, public safety and other programs, compared to 16 percent for K-12 education.

“No one is taking it on the chin like (K-12). These conversations have gone on for way too long,” he said.

“Through all of this, I think it’s important to look at our kids and how well they have achieved, despite the strap continuing to be pulled,” Goldman said.

Teachers continue to perform for kids, despite fewer resources and larger class sizes, he said. He noted that the district is heading into negotiations with its teachers, who he said deserve to be paid a salary “that will allow them to live in the district where they work.”

But the SSF hit on the district totals $800,000 as a result of changes in two funding “weights,” or extra amounts schools receive per student: The first is what the district will have for 47 fewer students considered living below the poverty line, based on a change made by the state this year in how it calculates poverty.

The second change was the end of small-school status granted Hood River Valley High School following the closure of Cascade Locks High School in 2008, and transfer of those students to HRVHS and Hood River Middle School. (Cascade Locks had been K-12, and in the past five years has been scaled back to K-5, because of declining enrollment.)

“The jig is up — that ends this year,” Goldman said of the sunseting of the small school weight. “We didn’t have a good handle on it, and that’s on me,” Goldman said. Losing the small-school funding “was not part of our forecasting and it’s a big hit for us.”

The good news is that the district has saved about $500,000 in efficiencies over the past year, and Goldman said students and programs have benefited from grant funding totaling about $3 million for efforts such as STEM, professional development, arts and dual language learning.

“These are all high value, without adding to the general fund and in some cases extending the school day for some of our disadvantaged students,” he said.

Adoption of a transportation revision plan (pending) and the recent change in the district’s contract with the Education Service District would total about $300,000 in savings, Goldman noted.

“There are not that many big-ticket items out there to save us money,” Goldman said. “There is no one big thing. It will take a number of little things.”

(District staff presented the transportation plan to the board last night, but the board has not taken action on it: the district is considering reducing the number of bus runs as a way to cut transportation costs. The district would cut seven bus runs but to do so would have to create staggered starting times for the schools, meaning many elementary students would start school earlier, and some students living less than a mile from school would no longer be bussed. According to a survey of district patrons, support for the idea is running about 70 percent.)

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