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Schools begin to restore staffing

North Clackamas School District officials are hoping that their previously expected $6 million in budget cuts soon becomes a distant memory.

Assuming $6.55 billion in state funding plus $200 million in Public Employee Retirement System savings, NCSD plans to add back some staff positions rather than make the drastic cuts it had braced for. Based on a feared scenario with $6.35 billion for the state schools fund, district officials in January held several open houses and talked with hundreds of local residents about their preferred cuts.

NCSD’s Budget Committee, however, last week approved a plan to add back three teaching positions and about five classified positions such as secretaries, school bus drivers, custodians, food service, instructional assistants and maintenance workers.

Editors note: An earlier version of this online story overstated the number of classified positions the district is adding back due to an error in the districts proposed budget document.

Superintendent Matt Utterback, in his message to Budget Committee members, reminds the public of the long way still to go to achieve peak staffing levels. NCSD enrollment is down 4 percent from a peak of 17,728 in 2008-09. Staff health insurance costs have since increased more than 10 percent each year. Despite proposed reforms, the district still expects a 2.5 percent increase in PERS costs.

“Over the past four years we have reduced 24 percent of our certified (teaching) staff and 23 percent of our administrative staff,” Utterback wrote. “To add back these 250 positions would cost more than $23 million.”

This year’s budget includes $421,000 in staffing reductions, $400,000 of which was a result of the consolidation of Oak Grove Center, Twilight and New Urban High School. The district will also save $500,000 in unemployment costs and $1 million by not purchasing new math instructional materials this year.

NCSD’s general fund is set to contribute $207,000 for the equivalent of 2.3 special-education teachers to offset reductions as a result of federal sequestration, which is targeting Title 1 schools with large low-income populations. As a result of sequestration, NCSD Title I schools would lose 2.25 instructional-coach positions along with 7.43 certified and classified staffing.

Next year the School Board plans to close an elementary school in the Putnam High School attendance area prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year. Given steps taken this past year and looking to the future, Utterback believes the district’s financial picture will begin to improve.

“Our fund balance is improving and we should be in a better position to begin to restore student school days in the coming years,” he said. “Our district employees deserve our deepest appreciation as they continue to provide outstanding support to our students despite increases in workload and expectations.”