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School board adopts painful budget

District takes all three measures to contend with shrinking budget

With a dramatic reduction in student enrollment, a reduction in revenues from the state and an increase in Public Employment Retirement System expenditures, the Estacada School Board last week adopted a 2011-12 district budget that represents an overall 9 percent reduction in expenditures from the previous year's budget.

Within the adopted budget, the district's general funds balance decreases from nearly $24.5 million in 2010-11 to nearly $21.7 million for 2011-12, representing an 11 percent decrease. This reduction paints a painful picture of how the district must adjust to a shrinking student population that equals shrinking revenues from the state.

The reduction of about $2.1 million from the general fund means the district must make significant staff reductions, amounting to 29.26 in full-time equivalency employees. Along with reductions from attrition, retirement and non-renewed temporary contracts, eight staff members were laid off effective June 10 to reach the 29.26 mark.

There will be an across-the-board hiring freeze, no step increases, no cost-of- living adjustments and five furlough days.

'Balancing the budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year required a lot of sacrifices by all district staff,' Superintendent Howard Fetz said after the budget was adopted. 'Some retired by their own choice, but others lost their jobs. And the remaining employees will all experience five furlough days, no raise on their respective salary schedules, no cost-of- living allowance, no scheduled salary-schedule step increases, and no increase on the insurance cap.

'This agreement was accomplished through strong and unselfish leadership from the teachers' union (Estacada Educational Association) and the classified employees union. The administrative and confidential employees agreed to the same fiscal conditions.

'We are all fortunate that a 'kids-first' unselfishness by all of the district's employees superseded personal gain in our negotiations to achieve the above cost savings.'

With the reduction in staff, the adopted budget will mean classrooms in the district's elementary schools will be blended. During the budget approval process, a subcommittee dedicated to discussing the notion of blended classrooms was formed and through those discussions, it was finally agreed, with the input of teachers, that grades two and three, and grades four and five were best to be blended next school year.

Grades one and six will not be blended.

'Parents who are concerned about the effect of 'blending' at grades two/three and four/five will find that this model will create more everyday opportunities for 'differentiated learning,' ' Fetz said. 'In other words, students will be taught and assessed - especially in reading, writing, and math - at their appropriate developmental levels.'

However, he continued, 'This will not mean 'ability grouping' for all subjects. Rather, it will continue our current and past practices of 'shared teaching' using different teaching and assessment styles so that individual students are able to be taught 'where they are,' rather than 'where their next-door neighbor kid is.' Our motto, in this regard, is, 'Not one way for all, but the right way for each.' '

Along with blending, the adopted budget also means a shared administrative model will be put in place next year, with Seth Johnson acting as a shared principal for both Clackamas River Elementary and River Mill Elementary schools.

Fetz said that, in addition to Johnson's leadership of both of those schools, the district will have shared administrative services provided by the district's central office and other school building administrators. Again, during the budget approval process, a subcommittee on this issue, as well, was formed to look at its impact on the two schools.

'We are fortunate to have four of our traditional schools located within two to five minutes of each other,' he said. 'If Mr. Johnson were unavailable, one or more of the above-mentioned administrators would be 'on call' and would respond to any 'out of the ordinary' events.'

For school districts across Oregon, the pains of approving a 2011-12 budget surround revenue reductions coming from the state. While state revenue decreases are somewhat of an issue at Estacada, the biggest budgetary problem is the significant drop in student enrollment.

This year the district lost the equivalent of 192.2 students. With the state paying districts just more than $6,000 per student, this reduction means a loss of $1.16 million in revenues alone.

While this drastic drop in student enrollment has certainly left its mark on the 2011-2012 budget, it's anyone's guess if this trend will continue in Estacada, further changing the way the school district operates in years to come. While it hasn't met yet, a subcommittee has been formed to research the notion of closing a school if enrollment continues to fall.

'We are all very concerned that the student population in the Estacada Schools might continue to drop,' Fetz said. 'Since our state funding is directly related to our district's weighted student population, the loss of any single (traditional) student can mean the loss of anywhere from almost $6,000 per year up to as much as $12,000 per year for a special needs or SPED student.'

Fetz went on to say that, with federally mandated academic standards rising annually, it is increasingly more difficult to keep frustrated students in school.

'That is one of the biggest challenges parents and school personnel must work on together,' he said. 'One of our goals for the new school year will be to increase the depth and accuracy of our tracking as to 'where' and 'why' some students leave our district. This will help us increase our efforts to keep our students in Estacada Schools. Parents and community members can assist in attracting and retaining students, too, by emphasizing what a great place Estacada is to live, educate kids and raise a family.'

Information, including budget details, can be found at the school district's website at esd108.org.