HR School Board upholds Sept. 2 as opening day

The 2003-04 school year will begin, as planned, on Sept. 2, though the Hood River County School District Board of Directors came within one vote of delaying opening by four days.

Elementary students, sixth graders, new students, and all Cascade Locks students start Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day, with seventh and eighth graders and high school upper classmen phasing in on Sept. 2 and 4.

But everyone got nearly a week of extra summer vacation on Aug. 12 as the School Board wrestled with superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady’s recommendation that the start of school wait until Sept. 8. The five board members present voted 3-2 not to delay school; board chairwoman Jan Veldhuisen Virk cast the deciding vote.

The delay of four days would have saved the district $400,000, toward a projected budget reduction of about $765,000 that the district expects it must make.

But lack of information from the state over school funding keeps the entire picture unclear, according to school officials. The state Legislature has yet to approve an education budget, and is not expected to do so until after Labor Day.

“Day by day we try to calculate (funding to come),” said district budget manager Gwen Gardner. “It’s a very precarious situation.”

Statewide School Funding projections range from $4.9 billion to $5.1. If the Legislature approves something near the higher figure, the district will avoid huge cuts, according to Evenson-Brady.

“It’s a moving target,” said Evenson-Brady, who had said the four-day delay was the cost-cutting option that would do “the least damage.” Curricular and extra-curricular programs and staff positions might have to be cut in case of a state funding shortfall, according to Evenson-Brady, though the board has taken no such action yet.

“If the (state) budget comes through, great, if not we’ll have to make some tough decisions,” Evenson-Brady said.

School staff including Wy’east Middle School principal Ed Drew urged the board not to delay opening.

“If we have to cover the shortfall, we still have time. If we need to cut days, we can do it at the end of the year,” Drew said.

“Now is not the time,” said Kelvin Calkins, fifth-grade teacher at May Street Elementary and president of the Hood River Education Association, the teachers’ union group. “There will be time later, should it be necessary.”

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