Schools prepare to cut their costs

At Wednesday's Lake Oswego School Board meeting Superintendent Bill Korach asked the school board to prepare for a $1 million cut to staffing costs in next year's budget. If staffing cuts are teaching positions only, that is equivalent to 16 teachers.

'There's a tremendous amount of uncertainty but we have to anchor somewhere,' he said. 'We have to start somewhere or we can't start the conversations we need to have.'

The strategies for this economic recession are different than ones that have been used in the past. Unlike the Measure 5 implications in 1990, there is no certainty about what the end game will look like, said Korach. For that reason, he hopes to stretch out as many cuts as possible.

The district will consider reducing the number of non-teaching management positions. Since most of those were eliminated during the downturn following 9-11, the district will also look at re-establishing a teacher-student ratio for both regular and special education.

In order for a $1 million reduction to work, the LOSD Foundation would need to raise $1.5 million, and the governor's recommended budget needs to be approved by the state Legislature next year. Last year, the foundation raised $1.75 million, providing the equivalent of 30 teaching positions.

'That may seem to be less than we have to cut, but if we do all of these things, we think we can get it down to a $1 million cut. This is what I consider to be a reasonable worst-case scenario. Is it a worst-case scenario? No,' said Korach. 'It could be worse, but we've got to start somewhere.'

Board Member Linda Brown emphasized the importance of clear communication during the implementation of these strategies: 'What we're living on is energy that people bring into classrooms every day. That's morale,' she said. 'Making sure those reasons that are behind decisions are clearly communicated is absolutely essential.'

Over the last month, the district put cost controls in place to limit spending to essentials and items that are helpful for instruction. Additionally, any non-instructional position that becomes vacant will be evaluated to see if it can remain unfilled for the rest of the school year.

The board also gave notice to their employee associations of a potential reduction in teaching staff for next year.

Other cost-saving measures the district approved include:

* Delaying all non-essential maintenance projects and technology and equipment purchases.

* Initiating discussions with employee groups in an effort to eliminate non-essential expenses.

* Finishing high-return energy conservation projects so that revenue can increase. Oregon Senate Bill 1149 pays for energy projects in school districts and would save on future energy costs. Also, the district hopes to implement more day-to-day energy conservations efforts, such as being sure the lights are always turned off when a room isn't in use.

* Delaying the sequence of textbook adoptions so that the district will not incur the cost of a science textbook adoption until the 2010-11 budget.

* Reducing district-sponsored professional development activities to minimize the amount of time teachers are out of the classroom. Instead, the district will try to maximize current in-service days and use less contract consultants to lead workshops.

* Developing cost reduction management and support staff organizational models that are tailored to individual schools. For example, Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools could provide the same services but have different individual job descriptions and positions depending on people's strengths.

* Reviewing fees and funding sources other than tuition, which the district is committed to maintaining. The district would consider both lowering and raising some fees to appropriate levels for maintaining existing programs.

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