Double whammy faces schools

OSAA fight is on; budget committee meets on Tuesday

Hood River Schools aren't ready to head east yet.

The district will take what could be two last-chance steps in opposing redistricting by the Oregon School Activities Association.

All this happens while up to 10 district jobs appear to be headed south as the schools face budget cutbacks for 2002-03.

The district hopes to present its case for staying in the Mt. Hood Conference when the state Board of Education when meets in Salem April 21, to ask for at least a delay in shifting Hood River Valley High School out of the Mt. Hood Conference and into the central- and eastern-Oregon based Intermountain Conference.

"It's our best option at this point," Superintendent Jerry Sessions told the school board April 10. (The district is not on the state board agenda yet, but Sessions said he is confident he and district legal counsel Jeff Baker will be granted time to speak.)

"With the economy turning around, we can even better address the needs down the road," with a stay, Sessions said. "I am confident things are happening behind the scenes that will work in our favor." He referred to a letter from State Sen. Rick Metsger to the state board, joining Hood River's case.

The district wrote "letters of exception" Friday to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, taking issue with the recent decision by a Hearings Officer to uphold the OSAA redistricting decision. Sessions, Baker, and HRVHS principal Ben Kolb authored the letters.

Kolb wrote, "while there is little evidence in the record of the advantages to the seven schools of the IMC for this change, only the hope of one additional league contest seems to be the force driving this decision. This is an extreme price for the students of one school to pay."

If the IMC move goes through, HRVHS teams would face three and four-hour drives for games in Bend, Redmond, Crook County, Pendleton and Hermiston. Mt. Hood Conference opponents are located in Portland and east Multnomah County, one to two hours away.

The OSAA dilemma is not the only tough issue in front of the schools this month. Sessions announced Wednesday that the district could cut a total of up to 10 jobs in 2002-03 in order to meet its $1.1 million budget shortfall for 2002-04 biennium. The personnel cuts are not definite until the 2002-03 budget is adopted, likely in May.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., the District Budget Committee holds its next meeting. It is scheduled to finalize a proposed budget, currently at about $30 million for the next two years, in time for presentation to the school board in May.

The action taken Wednesday by the board was to authorize the administration to submit the personnel cuts to the budget committee. Sessions has asked to cut 6.83 teaching positions and 1.91 classified positions, in addition to the high school assistant principal position, now held by Glenn Elliott. Sessions said the district would decide by Friday (too late for press time) which specific jobs would be proposed for cutting.

The personnel cuts are part of a $1.1 million reduction that includes reductions of $125,000 in technology purchases and $106,000 in athletics. (Sessions said no programs will be cut, and reductions will primarily be made in assistant coaches's salaries.)

"We've made significant cuts in every program," said assistant superintendent Rick Eggers. "A lot of folks have worked very hard over the past two or three months. A lot of suggestions have been taken and significant cuts have been made. We've cut a lot of things, and now we have to take a look at cutting people. There are not a lot of `things' we can cut out now.

"We don't know with absolute certainty where these cuts will be made, and possibly some will happen through attrition, but it would not be truthful to say that all of them can be taken care of through attrition," Eggers said. "Some people will be faced with having their positions reduced or eliminated."

District budget problems are aggravated by the pending move to the Intermountain District; increased travel, accommodations and other needs will cost the district at least another $30,000 next year, Elliott has told the school board.

The district now hopes to get the state superintendent of Public Instruction to stay the Hearings Officer's decision but stay the redistricting by two years. In turn, OSAA could appeal the "implement-stay" decision, Baker said.

After the state board's decision, the school district would have days to appeal it to the Court of Appeals.

Baker said "deference to the decision makers below would be quite great," by the Court of Appeals.

"The time involved could be as long as a couple of years. Our last best hope is now with the Superintendent of Public Instruction's office."

Baker told the board Wednesday that it would take the Hearings Officer to task over the scope of his review.

Baker said Reed based his ruling solely on whether or not OSAA had violated any laws or OSAA regulations in deciding to move Hood River Valley to the IMC.

"We'll submit the argument that the proper standard of review was less strict than that."

He added that the letter will address the conception of OSAA as a "voluntary association," which OSAA has invoked,

"The Hearings Officer cited that argument, but frankly it's lost any currency," Baker said. "It's not hardly a volunteer association anymore, if it ever was."

"The preponderance of the evidence submitted to the Hearings Officer and summarized in the proposed order clearly shows that thee will be a substantial deteriment(al) impact to Hood River's students caused by the move to the Intermountain Conference," Baker wrote.

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