School board approves $6.3 million budget for 2014-15

Things are looking good for Gaston School District with a recently passed 2014-15 operating budget that allows for hiring more teachers and adding more classes.

Members of the Gaston School Board and Budget Committee unanimously approved the $6.3 million budget at a meeting last week.

“As I move to retire, it gives me great satisfaction to leave our program in an upswing that will truly benefit our staff, students and community,” Superintendent David Beasley wrote in a letter about the budget addressed to community members. “The budget process was easier this year as we had solid data on our resources from Salem.

“Our big issue is accounting for the final open enrollment numbers, which we don’t get until the end of March.”

Open enrollment, a concept signed into law two years ago in the form of House Bill 3681 by the Oregon Legislature, allows students to attend the school district of their choice, providing the school chooses to participate in open enrollment.

For the coming academic year, Gaston received 43 new open-enrollment transfer requests.

Open enrollment funds have proved especially beneficial to the tiny Gaston district, which had declining or flat enrollment for several years. Next school year’s projected enrollment is 563 students, with 124 pupils expected to be from out of the district.

Budget highlights include new reading textbooks for kindergarten through sixth grade classes, art supplies for a new elementary school art program, supplies for new food and sewing classes and various district-wide technology upgrades.

While federal special education money was reduced by a little more than $700, the district received $35,000 from Washington County Gain Share funds.

Music programs will be added, too, as well as a secondary position for orchestra and choir. The elementary physical education teacher position has been increased to full-time, allowing for more PE programs at the high school. Gaston can hire another fifth-sixth grade level teacher to reduce class sizes, and district officials plan to add a half-time reading instructor to provide more help to beginning readers.

The Family Life Counselor position will be increased to four days a week. The superintendent position, filled by this year’s high school principal, Susan McKenzie, will become full-time and be combined with the Director of Special Education position.

Three new staff positions will be added to the junior/senior high school to accommodate the growing numbers entering seventh and eighth grades. And high school math and language arts staff will be expanded to help students master academic standards required for graduation.

With the additional staff, Gaston class sizes should not exceed 25 at any grade level, Beasley said. District leaders are expecting 16 to 17 kindergarteners for each of the two sections, he added.

“Our enrollment is growing, especially at the middle school ages, and we are pleased to be able to add staff at this level to accommodate them,” Beasley said. “Our district is very concerned that the teaching staff have class sizes that allow for the needs of all students.”

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