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‘Disheartening’ reductions needed in new school budget

The Hood River County School Board passed the 2014-15 budget Tuesday, with no one from the sparse crowd choosing to speak when Budget Committee Chair Chip Dickinson opened the floor to public comment.

The $58,547,411 budget passed unanimously after school board and budget committee members asked final questions to Supt. Dan Goldman and Chief Financial Officer Saundra Buchanan regarding particular parts of the document, including why big variances exist in some line items between one year and the next.

Buchanan explained these differences were the result of basing the budget on actual numbers instead of estimates and assigning line items to their proper designations.

Reductions include

HRVHS Alternative Ed program cut

Some certified and classified positions cut

World language programs at both middle schools reduced

New library books, classroom supplies reduced

Bus routes reduced

Goldman further explained in a follow-up email May 15 that he and Buchanan have “spent a lot of energy this year reassigning expenditures to the proper account codes so we can more accurately monitor expenses.

“For instance, we’ve never assigned our reading specialists to a separate account code — they’ve always been assigned to the same account codes as a regular classroom teacher. So it looks like we have a huge increase in expenditures in ‘remediation services.’

“However, it’s a program we’ve had for years — we’re just assigning activities to more specific account lines,” he said.

That Hood River County School District is facing numerous cuts and reductions is part of a history of declining education revenue at the state level, Goldman explained at the May 13 meeting: In 2003-2005, education made up 45 percent of the state’s budget, compared to 38 percent in 2013-2015.

Funding is down for education because funding is up for other state programs, such as corrections and human services, he said. If education funding does not increase next year, “We will have the same conversation next year,” Goldman said. The district is already planning for the 2015-16 budget cycle.

He also stressed that no single cut in this year’s budget is going to fix the funding situation permanently, citing the closing of Pine Grove Elementary as an example.

“People say, ‘We were told we’d be okay if Pine Grove closed,’” he said. “We’re not okay. We still need to make cuts.”

Current cuts include the district’s Alternate Education program at Hood River Valley High, with the hopes of reinstating a redesigned program in 2015-16. Certified and classified staff at all schools will also be cut.

Many reductions are also planned, including certified and classified staff at all schools, world language programs at the middle schools, and new library books and classroom supplies. Staggered start times at all schools will reduce transportation costs.

After the budget passed, both the board and budget committee praised Goldman and Buchanan for their work in structuring the budget to accurately reflect the district’s expenditures. Board Chair Liz Whitmore also thanked the board and budget committee for their commitment.

“We did our due diligence,” she said. “Reducing budgets is a tiring and disheartening place to be. Someday, I hope we can add the crucial things back.”

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