Forest Grove school budget passes 4-1


Board member John Hayes pushes his colleagues to add a music position back

The Forest Grove School Board adopted a 2012-13 district budget Monday night that includes $3.1 million in cuts as proposed by the superintendent, but not before a bit of drama over music.

The budget funds the school district at $49.1 million for the fiscal year that starts in July, a reduction from the current year's budget of roughly 6 percent.

As the board deliberated over the document, it was clear no one has forgotten the politics that drove citizen activists to mount a recall of two board members last year following the adoption of a budget that cut $7.5 million from the district's operations and closed Gales Creek Elementary School.

Before the five-member board voted on the budget, John Hayes, who was appointed this year to fill one of two seats left vacant following the recall, offered an amendment to restore an elementary music instructor to the budget.

Hayes said he was also troubled by cuts to school libraries, counseling staff and physical education, but said he singled out the music post, in part, because "the arts always get cut first."

The amendment passed on a 3-2 vote with Kate Grandusky and Alisa Hampton supporting Hayes.

School board member Fred Marble said he wanted to know where the roughly $100,000 in salary and benefits for the position would come from before he could sign on.

Board member Gil Jimenez said he didn't like singling out one position over others.

But the three-vote majority, which amended the budget, couldn't pass it. Grandusky, who campaigned hard last year and unseated an incumbent, Ralph Brown, by siding with citizens who organized the recall effort, was the swing vote.

She wanted the board to add back funding for library staffing and books, particularly in elementary schools, which she said are critical for teaching young readers how to access resources.

"Our books and libraries are assets," she said. "We spent almost $700,000 last year for a reading curriculum. It's like giving piano lessons without getting the piano."

Hayes then asked Grandusky, Marble and Jimenez to state their reasons for voting against the amended budget.

After hearing their positions, Hayes offered his.

"I will fight until the very end to preserve that music position," he said, "and here's why: This community held a recall and two board members got replaced because the community thought the board wasn't doing its job. What we're poised to do is adopt a budget that does not respond to the community. If we do that, I think we'll see another recall."

In response to Marble's concerns, district business manager Mike Schofield said there was wiggle room in any $49 million budget based on multiple factors. He told the board that the directive to add back a music position was within his comfort zone.

"We're 18 months ahead of where we will end up," he said. "The question you seem to be asking is whether we're willing to find $100,000 now instead of wait until later," he said. "I'm OK if the board wants to do that."

That assurance moved Marble and Jimenez, who joined Hampton and Hayes to pass the amended budget 4-1.

John Schrag contributed to this article.