HR school budget nears approval

Elementary PE, music sustained; sports on Local Option

Elementary physical education and music are off the chopping block.

The Hood River County School District budget committee adopted the 2003-04 district budget Thursday night, following three sessions of testimony from community members who argued strongly against a proposed $250,000 reduction in PE and music for kindergartners through fifth-graders.

Parent Darla Schmecker told the committee, “I believe that music and physical education are an important part of our young children’s lives. Taking these things out of our schools is not only wrong, but detrimental to our children’s future.” The cuts would have meant no instruction after December 2003.

Superintendent Rick Eggers said Friday morning that, “From the start, we told people our highest priority would be elementary PE and music. Now we are in position where we feel we are have the revenue we need, so we restored it.”

This means the programs are no longer under the Local Option tax levy, for the Sept. 16 ballot. Under the levy, voters will be asked to approve a property tax levy for between one and five years in order to prevent $1.3 million in cutbacks.

Co-curricular programs are being placed under the Local Option, in the other major change to the proposal. Eggers said the committee placed $80,000 under the Local Option, and if the vote fails, the School Board will take a broad look at all co-curriculars — sports and other programs — and decide where to make cuts.

Six sports had been tabbed for reduction in 2003-04, but that is now an open question, according to Eggers.

In other changes to the proposed budget, a high school teaching position was restored in the general fund and a third grade teaching position was eliminated a Parkdale Elementary, based on enrollment projections, Eggers said. The $29.6 million proposed budget next goes to the School Board for approval, likely at the June 26 meeting. The entire budget review process got a six-week late start this year as the district held out for the best education revenue figures it could get from the state. Eggers said last week’s “abysmal” May projections actually gave the district enough wiggle room to make it possible to reprioritize elementary PE and music.

“As this all shakes out, in spite of the projections, the people we rely on for (revenue) advice in Salem say the education budget will be bigger than what we built estimates on,” Eggers said. That figure was $4.5 billion in the state budget for education. “How much bigger is open to interpretation,” he said. On the State Revenue department’s advice, the district increased the amount of expected revenue by $30 per student per day. The district also expects to receive additional Medicaid reimbursements, and it also analyzed staffing and enrollment patterns and eliminated the Parkdale teaching position. Parkdale will still have a 25-26-student class size, which is comparable to other elementary schools in the district.

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