School district opts to stay with $1.4M cutbacks

Budget committee meets Monday; June 6 is the day district will list expected job cuts

Budget decisions are coming down to the deadline, and Monday night will be decision time for the Hood River County School District Budget Committee.

Monday’s meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Hood River Valley High School library, and public comment will be taken.

Citizens testified in support of Community Ed; see adjoining article for excerpts.

The committee decided May 28 to hold to the $40 million budget presented by the administration on April 24. That budget is based on an overall Oregon State School Fund figure of $6.55 billion.

The committee considered asking Superintendent Charlie Beck and finance manager Nick Hogan to revise the 2013-14 budget to instead reflect the increased $6.75 SSF, but Beck said he did not expect confirmation of the larger figure before the budget deadline. That means HRCSD needs to adhere to a budget based on the $6.55 billion figure.

This also means that, despite hearing strong support for Community Education in its May 20 meeting, the committee on May 28 decided to return, for now, to the $1.4 million in cutbacks proposed on April 24.

These include removing $80,000 in general fund revenue from the Community Ed budget, and reducing staff by seven teaching jobs and seven support positions.

“You’re going to have to decide if you’re going to keep us,” Community Education director told the committee May 28.

Committee members said that their approved removal of the general fund expense for Community Ed would come with the understanding that the program can seek reserve funding in the future as need arises.

The committee, which includes all members of the School Board, will deliberate one more time — Monday at 6:30 p.m. — before deciding on a recommended budget for the School Board to adopt by its June 26 meeting.

The other key date looming over the district is June 6: on that day, the district must inform district staff specifically about which job positions it intends to cut in 2013-14.

Also driving the budget decision timeline is the law requiring the board to publish the budget two weeks in advance of the adoption date, making Monday’s budget committee meeting the last chance for the committee to act.

The committee’s instructions to the administration Monday reiterated the district goal of getting back to a $2 million budget reserve (five percent of the total budget). In the current proposal the reserve stands at $1.2 million and had been projected to dip as low as $800,000 in 2014-15.

The April 24 $1.4 million menu of cuts was presented prior to the news received two weeks ago that the district would receive an unexpected $2.07 million injection of new funds over the next two years.

The administration responded to that by proposing lowered cuts — reduced to about $800,000, but on May 28 the committee made it clear it wants the new revenue to be held in reserve.

 “Even if we go forward with the original proposed budget dated 4-24, it doesn’t get us to being sustainable,” said Bob Danko, School Board member, “but,” he added, “it's still a major step in that direction.”

Danko recommended, and others agreed, that “If we do get money, then it should be designated for reserves to start with. Then we can decide as a board what the need is.

“We'll have a new superintendent (Dan Goldman succeeds Beck on July 1) and we can decide as a board at that time if that money should (be spent) — but recognize that we're not going to be sustainable, even with the April 24 cuts, which are a higher level.

“I think a clear message to the superintendent and staff should be ‘come back next time with the 4-24 cuts, and recognize that if we do get more money, at least in this budget process, it goes into reserves’."

Board member Mark Johnson, who is the State Representative for Dist. 24, said the district could follow a typical state expenditure practice of attaching a “budget note” to the added reserve revenue stating that priority should go to Community Education.

“You can't bind the hands of the governing body (in this case, the School Board), but you can give them recommendations on what you think is the best path forward,” Johnson said.

About Community Ed, Rust told the committee he is often asked, “What is your business plan?”

“Our basic business plan is to increase revenue and decrease expenses while efficiently managing programs. Period,” Rust said. “That's the business plan. It's that simple. We do it a hundred times over.

“We don’t lose money on any of our classes or programs. We could use more income. We could use more signups. We could use more (participation) in our youth sports. We actually have to build. Taking on middle school sports (in 2012) meant a lot of extra work. We had to add some labor to get ramped up to handle that extra work,” Rust said.

“Actually you saved $120,000 in two of those years, besides the fact that you only spent $35,000 on our program. So it seems to me, we're actually generating revenue, at a pretty high level.

“It's hard for me not to get too passionate because every year we don’t quite make it and we get dangled. And, every year we tell people, 'they're going to cut us.' I feel a little like the boy who cried wolf ... If we got a little bit of money I think we could get ahead,” said Rust.

PATRON COMMENTS TO BUDGET COMMITTEE

Patrons speak on the proposed budget, including proposed teacher job cuts and reduction of general fund money for the Community Education program:

Parent Rich Trueax told the board, "I know its difficult to figure out where to make cuts, Community Ed is a completely ridiculous place to make cuts. (He urged them to look at upper and middle-management salaries.)

“It is just a huge opportunity for many across the community. It's an inappropriate area to make the cuts. We need to find another way."

Janis Farrell, a long-time teacher in Prime Time, an afterschool program operated through Community Ed, said she has 68 kids enrolled after school, a typical number that goes down at times because of other Community Ed programs.

“I just would like you to consider what would happen to a lot of these kids if they didn't have a place to go after school. A lot of them are too small to be latchkey children. It's been awhile since this community has seen a lot of latchkey kids."

Pat Evenson-Brady, a former parent, who was district superintendent from 2005 to 2010, said her kids were involved in soccer, summer camps, Prime Time, classes, and she is herself both a former patron and instructor, having taught wine tasting and computer technology classes.

“I believe strongly it is critical for Hood River County School District to continue to support Community Education. The basis of all this is the buildings, that our  community pays for with our taxes, and unless the buildings are used, the 75 percent of the community who do not have kids in school do not have a stake in keeping those buildings as beautiful and functional as they are."

She said after school day care and preschool are critical, and she supports partnerships with other groups, and formation of advisory board.

“These are excellent ideas, and are going to require commitment from administration, board and this budget committee. If you leave with the budget as it is now, Community Education might close. If you make the choice that you don't want to und CE any more, you need to do it early on so that we can close things down for all the people who need and use the services that are available."

“Middle school sports are tremendously important handed to Community Ed this year without any funding to support it.

Paul Blackburn, a former City Council member, said, "I want to be one person to stand here and tell you that when you cut you're not the bad guy. you're the good guy because you're saving for the future."

"Just be judicious. I would really encourage you to try to reach the 5-10 percent (reserve) figure. It's incredibly painful to do these cuts, because we all know people, faces, kids. I have a seventh grader and an 11th grader, but eating the seed corn this year isn't the best stewardship of the district.

"It's not that the decisions are so difficult, it's just that they're incredibly painful. What is the best thing to do comes clear sooner than you think it could, but it still means cutting."

Becky Franks, said, "The essential issue is not how we compare to other districts. it's what decisions do we make as a community during these difficult financial times that reflect our commitment to ongoing valuable public education. Don't look at the cuts at the ground level, where people are delivering services in the buildings, to the students. I ask you to look at middle and upper management, I ask you to look to TOSAs (Teachers On Special Assignment) . . . they do great work, and are helpful, but they are not essential positions,

Dr. Robin Henson said, “we’ve cut sorts, we’ve cut PE, we’ve cut all sorts of programs but Community Ed is the only program a lot of kids have available.

Also, she said many families can’t afford other summer camps, but Community Ed is an affordable option.

“Let’s not always look at the teachers, let’s not always look at the immediate delivery of services. Let’s look at the broader thing. Let’s look at middle management, and at the administration. Let’s look across the board at where you can cut, and try to preserve the services to children.”

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