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Schools face $2 million in cuts, staff layoffs

School Board will rule on final budget next month

It was a good news, bad news situation last week in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

The good news was the district wasn't going to cut nearly as much from its 2013-14 budget as it expected.

The bad news: school leaders will still have to make $2 million in reductions, lay off nearly two dozen people and hope more cuts aren’t on the horizon.

The district had been planning for months on $4 million in budget cuts. After the Legislature approved a plan to increase funding for schools and reduce retirement costs for public employees, the district was able to shave that number in half.

But it’s still not enough, said Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Jill Zurschmeide.

“Once again we are so grateful to be given crumbs,” Zurschmeide said. “I am really tired of being so grateful for crumbs.”

In total, the equivalent of 26.75 people will be laid off from Tigard-Tualatin, 15 of them teachers, counselors and administrators.

How it breaks down

The district office will lose the equivalent of more than five full-time administrators, a secretarial position and three custodial positions.

Elementary schools fared the best, losing the equivalent of only a single teacher and one secretarial position between the 10 schools. Elementary class size will remain the same as this year.

In the district’s three middle schools, two teaching positions in sixth grade social studies and math will be eliminated in addition to three art and technology teaching positions.

Outdoor School would also be eliminated to help maintain afterschool programs in middle schools.

At Tigard and Tualatin high schools, five teaching positions in the district’s core subjects — math, science, language arts, physical education, health and social studies — will be eliminated, as well as four positions from elective courses such as media arts, art, business or foreign language.

Susan Stark Haydon, a district spokeswoman, said the high schools will be able to keep courses in drama, orchestra and Tigard High School’s popular guitar program.

Incoming Superintendent Ernie Brown said at last week’s budget meeting that music classes will remain largely untouched, after rumors circulated that programs were on the chopping block.

The cuts are a far cry from the plans the district was making a few weeks ago, when it was proposing cutting as many as 51 positions across the district, including 36 teaching positions from nearly every grade level. Last year, the district eliminated 23.5 positions, nearly all through retirements and attrition.

‘It still sucks’

The drop in cuts is thanks to reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System. A bill passed by the Oregon Legislature in April would cut an estimated $200 million from the public pension costs of school districts over the next two years.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is expected to sign the bill.

It was welcome news for district leaders, who were able to remove programs previously on the chopping block, including drama, orchestra and THS’ guitar program.

Deciding on the remaining reductions to carve from schools’ budgets is no less troubling for the School Board.

“Even though its only 2 percent, it still sucks,” Zurschmeide said. “It’s not enough for our kids, it’s not enough for our teachers, and it’s not enough for our staff.”

More than once over the past few months, parents have asked if the district is considering implementing furlough days for district staff in order to save costs, effectively erasing days from the instruction calendar.

It’s a move that requires the approval of all of the district’s employee unions.

Budget Committee member Jerry Larsen said adding furlough days for school staff might make sense.

A single day of furloughs would save the district about $350,000, Larsen said. Enough to hire back three or four teachers.

If the district cut three days — which would save the district more than $1 million — the district could spare 12 positions.

“That puts us within 10 or 11 people to be where we need for the budget,” Larsen said. “I’m confident those kinds of cuts could be absorbed through attrition.”

It’s a discussion the district has had before.

School Board members have said in years past that cutting days from the calendar was unsustainable and that the district’s employee unions would need to sign on to the plan, something the groups have been reluctant to do in the past.

The Sherwood School District said Tuesday that it would cut three days next year in order to keep from laying off teachers.

But Tigard-Tualatin Budget Committee member Jim Harbolt told the committee while the idea might look good on paper, it’s a short-term solution for a long-term problem.

“I have a really hard time as a parent and citizen with this because I can solve this PERS uptick with furlough days, but that doesn’t really work for me,” he said. “I know there are reasons for furloughs, but solving our PERS increases by having kids spend less days in school is not something I would support.”

The district is currently in negotiations with its employee groups.

The approved budget proposal now goes to the School Board, which is expected to adopt it in June.

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