Crook County School District avoids cuts in days and staff for the upcoming school year, and begins the slow road to progress on their annual budget

by: JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - During the past few months, local home prices have steadily risen, and overall sales have improved.

It has been mostly good news during the budget process for the Crook County School District 2012-2013 fiscal year budget.
   Under-budgeted revenue and over-budgeted expenses is a good problem to have for the time being, and the result is an increased bottom line of $1.8 million to carry over for the 2012-13 school year and beyond.
   The budget for the 2012-13 school year was approved by the CCSD Budget Committee for $40,437,143, with a nine-to-one motion.
   “If there are any changes for the adoption at this point, it appears that they will be minor technical changes, if at all,” said Mark Murray, a consultant from Gresham, who is working with Business Manager Gregg Munn. “Nothing from my view, substantive or problematic.”
   “We don’t anticipate any significant changes,” said CCSD Superintendent Duane echa.
   The final adoption is scheduled for June 11, but may be rescheduled for June 18.
   In spite of a healthy carryover, the business department and budget committee at CCSD have some firm fiscal principles that they are reinforcing to the district to stay in a good financial status. One of the first things is making sure the district manages expenditures within their annual operating revenue. Immaterialized enrollments prior to 2009-10 resulted in fund balances that were eroding to support operating expenses. This structural problem resulted in the need for harsh correction at the end of 2008-09 in the form of day cuts, and in 2009-10, in the form of staffing and more day cuts.
   The district is being urged to reserve savings for one-time expenses and to hedge against future uncertainty. With open enrollment changing, the district will need to engage more non-traditional thinking to retain and attract students in the future. The balance between too much and too little fund balance is a fine line. Too little fund balance puts the district at fiscal risk and threatens cash flow, the ability to pay bills and make payroll, and limits the safety net in case of emergency. Too much fund balance holds back funds from kids.
   Because of the status quo status of the overall fiscal budget for the 2012-13 school year, the budget committee didn’t have each school present their budget individually at the budget meetings. Overall, there weren’t too many changes in staffing or budget projections at the schools.
   Due to a grant and some staff attrition, Crook County High School has added two full-time teaching positions. One position is through the recent CTE grant, which will pay for the teacher salary, building construction, and equipment for the class. The other Business and Career Education position is absorbed through other attrition positions.
   The high school also increased the hours for the Aspire positions to 20 hours per week for each position, including benefits. These positions will also be an integral part of the advanced diploma program, as it picks up momentum next school year.
   “It goes a long way to addressing the achievement compacts and supporting college readiness,” said Yecha.
    He said one of the most important things he has received from community input is the importance of the Aspire Program. He added that the district has also received many gifts from the community for the program.
   The Crook County Middle School had some decreases in FTE, with a total of 2.55. Both CCMS and Cecil Sly had slight salary increases, as well as Ochoco Grade School. Ochoco Elementary also will gain a full-time custodial position, which has been previously filled as a temporary position, and is cost-neutral. Paulina Elementary increased the FTE for their rural administrator from .10 to .26.
   The transportation budget for fuel was calculated with a 5 percent increase, in anticipation of the current economic conditions and the cost of oil. The budget went from $200,435 to $216,385. Transportation also has budgeted for three additional buses for the 2012-13 school year, as well as retrofitting two buses for emissions.
   During budget meetings, there were discussions of whether to pursue reductions, starting with the current budget, or whether to wait another year. Only two budget committee members, Jodie Fleck and Wade Flegel, voted this direction, so no further discussion was made regarding budget reductions for the upcoming fiscal year. Rich Mires stated that it would be dangerous to make cuts before knowing the results of the current negotiations in progress. According to Yecha, negotiations are still in progress for the certified employees, and the classified employees have not started negotiations yet.
   Mires also brought up during budget discussions that although he supports athletics, he feels they have been given preferential treatment. He agrees with and understands the value of athletics, but said the same value can be placed on art, music, and drama.
   “To have cut art and counseling doesn’t fit the goal,” said Mires at the May 2 meeting. “Athletics serves 500 students, but what about the others?”
   His proposal was to hire two elementary music teachers, one high school art teacher, and add $20,000 back into the general fund for outdoor school.
   Scott Cooper asked how the District could justify adding instructors when the proposed budget includes no salary or benefit increases. Flegel asked Mires how he would make cuts to offset his suggestions. Mires replied that the fund balance chart shows a 3 percent increase per year for teachers.
   “The mission is to educate, but the District keeps paying teachers more and more, and that takes away from the students.”
   In audience discussions, Grace Deboodt, an elementary instructor at Ochoco Elementary, stated that social studies is her passion, and that it is taking a step back, along with music.
   “Children are not learning history, such as the Civil War, and not learning about the Constitution,” said Deboodt.
   She suggested having social studies for K-5, two times per week, having physical education two times per week, and one library time per week. In the winter, she suggested having music, and still keeping all reading and math. In January, she suggested having K-5 science, and in the spring, having music again. She also said that they could add one .5 FTE music and one .5 FTE elementary counselor.
   There were also other discussions about the value of a music program. Marv and Mary Cochran spoke about their music experience in the schools. Elaine McDaniel is a retired music teacher from Cecil Sly, and volunteers her time there so they can have music in their school. Sally Burger is also a retired music teacher, and she shared an article about the neurobiology of music.
   Renee Moses introduced her two children, Jozee and Sadee Moss. She said that one of her children had gone from being a D student to an A student with the help of music in Mr. Geisen’s class, and the music programs at CCMS and CCHS. She encouraged the District to use the teachers already in the system to help offer more music.
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