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With levy denial, district hands out pink slips

St. Helens School District

In the wake of the May 17 voter denial of a five-year operating levy for St. Helens' schools, administrators have since outlined where cuts to district services will come from and have started that process in earnest.

District officials had banked on the passage of the $1.20 per $1,000 tax of assessed home value to backfill its projected $1.6 million funding gap on an annual basis over a five-year span. District voters shot down the levy by nearly 63 percent, however.

Now, the majority of cuts will come from slashing teacher positions - at least nine in all and possibly more - which will save the district $540,000. With less than a month left in the school year, those teachers have received notification that they'll receive pink slips soon.

'We wanted to get those notifications to as many teachers as we could, to give them time to look for new jobs,' said Superintendent Patricia Adams. 'Teachers come first.'

Those reductions will come in addition to a consolidation between Columbia County Education Campus and St. Helens High School, an elimination of middle school athletics, the reduction of extra duty contracts and the release of four classified staffers and cutting administrative staff by one and a half.

Other cuts may include an additional five furlough days, a decrease in staff pay and benefits or the reduction of a further seven staff members, all of which is expected to total $445,000 in savings.

An increase in furlough days or decrease in staff pay and benefits will come as the result of ongoing labor negotiations, however. Those aren't expected to be completed until this summer.

Last year, the district entered into an atypical one-year contract with the teachers' union based on uncertainties surrounding the state's education budget, Adams said. This year the Legislature formalized an early-session 2011-2013 education budget - which totals $5.7 billion, about the same as the previous biennium - but it hasn't assuaged concerns of a prolonged labor negotiation period.

'This won't get any easier until we have adequate [state] funding,' Adams said.

Though incoming Superintendent Mark Davalos couldn't comment on the district's cuts because he was not involved with the budget process, he said he remains committed to providing a quality education to all district students. Through meetings with Adams, Davalos has begun the process of learning about the challenges the district faces.

Following a Monday night school board meeting, Davalos spent all day Tuesday in the district, acquainting himself with staff members and school policies.