School board will vote on consolidation in special meeting Wednesday night

With both a budget committee meeting and a school board meeting held May 9, the Estacada School District was very busy.

At the budget meeting, the committee approved a spending plan that, while only decreasing by approximately $331,000, featured a $900,000 in operating funds for the five Estacada brick-and-mortar schools.

At the school board meeting, members listened to a proposal about the consolidation of the two in-town elementary schools, which will come to a vote Wednesday, May 16, at a specially scheduled board meeting.


First on the agenda during the budget meeting was discussion of the proposed $31.7 million 2012-13 budget.

Almost before the meeting started, school board Chairman Mark Greene made things clear to the committee: Its decision to approve, alter or reject the proposed budget would have no impact on the board's decision regarding school consolidation.

The budget committee's job was to approve a ceiling for the district to spend up to, not to tell the board or the district where and how their money should be spent.

Once approved, the board will have the authority to spend up to the ceiling, plus an additional 10 percent if necessary.

The meeting began with remarks from Superintendent Howard Fetz and district Business Manager Donna Cancio.

'Losing students means a loss of money. We hope that it doesn't mean the loss of a quality education,' Fetz said. 'Unfortunately, we're more practiced at cutting budgets than extraneous spending.'

Fetz also pointed out that the district began this school year with 35 fewer employees, a number that would continue to drop next year with 10 more job casualties.

While difficult to wade through, the budget process ran smoothly as the committee ended up approving one of the two proposed budgets with just one vote in opposition.

The district budget is broken down into four funds - the general fund (the operating budget), the special revenue fund (dedicated grant revenue and programs), debt service fund (covers bond payments and long term debt) and capital projects fund (maintenance and remodeling).

In total, the district's budget decreased by approximately $331,555, however, that number is extremely misleading. The number that is a better indication of changes being made at the district is the general fund, which increased by $248,000.

The largest reason that the total budget decreased is found in the capital projects fund, which decreased by $639,000 because some major capital funds projects were completed in the 2011-12 school year.

Only to further obscure the budget picture, however, the increase of $248,000 is also a bit misleading. The Estacada Charter School's budget increased by $1.3 million from the proposed budget in 2011-12 due to a large increase in attendance.

When you wade through all of the increases and decreases across the board, the core message is this: the Estacada School District, when reduced to the five primary brick-and-mortar schools (Eagle Creek Elementary, River Mill, Clackamas River, Estacada Junior High and Estacada High School), is facing a $1 million decrease in its operating budget for 2012-13.

The budget committee's job was to wade through all of this confusion and make sure that Cancio and Fetz were being fiscally responsible and reasonable in their proposed budget. The verdict: they were.

The committee was given the option to choose between two proposals, the only difference being a $100,000 increase in the contingency fund for one proposal. The board ended up approving the proposal with the increase under the apparent assumption that if the district could not afford to put an extra $100,000 into the contingency fund, then the board and district would not do so. By approving this proposal, the option was authorized if they could afford it.

School board

With the budget approved, the next meeting on the agenda was the regularly scheduled school board meeting, with all eyes being on the proposal to consolidate River Mill Elementary and Clackamas River Elementary on the Clackamas River campus.

This decision would be the centerpiece in the district's plan to cut $1 million out of the budget.

After Clackamas River and River Mill Principal Seth Johnson made his presentation to the board, members asked him a range of questions and then listened to a small group of attendees who wanted to offer their input.

The plan now is to vote on the consolidation proposal at a specially scheduled meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in the high school choir room. The newly proposed schedule also is up for a vote.

The only major changes to the schedule are one additional snowflake day (the district used both of the allotted days this year) and a shift from two semesters to four quarters (district will still maintain four grading periods).

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