Bolstering the ending fund balance, improving elementary class sizes among the district's priorities

While slowly improving, the economic landscape is still an adverse one for the Newberg School District, but as Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza noted April 29 at the budget committee’s first meeting of the year, that was also the case last year.

While delivering her budget message, the superintendent noted several of the accomplishments the district managed despite tight fiscal constraints, including the negotiation of two labor contracts, the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system, the near completion of construction funded by the 2011 bond measure, the maintenance of a full-year school calendar and the weathering of a $1.1 million budget shortfall and the resulting small ending fund balance (EFB) of the general fund.

“Last year I said this and I still believe it, we do have the capability of thriving in lean economic times,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “We can still prepare our kids very well for the 21st century. We have to be thoughtful, we have to be purposeful and we have to stay true to what our mission is.”

LeBlanc-Esparza and district financial officer Gwen Gardner presented a budget of $45.3 million to the committee, which represents an increase of $1.9 million over the current school year.

The superintendent was quick to note that about $1.1 million of the increase was taken off the top for employee compensation, specifically to cover opt-out and insurance cap costs, as well as to fund cost of living and step increases in the contracts it negotiated with certified and classified employees. The latter was a move she was pleased with considering the district had not been able to offer those increases in recent years.

One of the biggest positives coming out of 2013-2014, according to LeBlanc-Esparza, is that the district projects an ending fund balance of $880,000, which more than doubles the $329,093 it listed for 2012-2013 following the $1.1 million budget shortfall that was discovered in August 2013 and led to the resignation of then-finance director Nathan Roedel.

The proposed budget also calls for setting aside $400,000 from the $1.9 million increase to push the ending fund balance closer to the industry-standard level of 3 percent of total budget. The 2012-2013 EFB was just 0.85 percent of the budget and the projected-current-year figure is just under 2 percent.

“We were fortunate because, honestly, with what challenges we did go into this year with we weren’t sure where we would be able to end with our ending fund balance,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “We’re pretty pleased.”

That left the district with just under $400,000 of new funding, which will help cover the budgets of the technology and teaching and learning departments, which had previously been covered with bond revenue.

One of the most emphasized changes for next year will be reducing class sizes and increasing teacher prep time at the elementary school level, which will be accomplished through an increase in staffing

The district plans to bump teaching personnel by 2.3 full-time equivalents (FTE), which will be paid for in part by some new savings and a shifting of resources away from the middle and high schools.

Next year, elementary class sizes in K-2 will drop from 26 to 25 students, with grades 3-5 falling from 29 to 26.5.

Inversely, middle school class sizes will go from 24.5 to 25 students and the high school level will rise from 24 to 25.5 students.

“Looking at the research about students who are not learning, not operating, not reading on grade level by third grade, the amount of resources it takes to try to address that deficit is unreal,” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “In fact, the effectiveness of that is quite scary, so we’ve got to put the bang for our buck at the beginning of kids’ educational careers.”

Other changes include increasing the NHS athletic budget to cover rising transportation costs, funding the implementation of formative assessment tools and the hiring of new administrators in the technology, teaching and learning and facilities departments.

In a vote of budget committee members Judi Croft was re-elected as committee chairwoman and Beth Staats was elected vice chairwoman.

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