La Grande Middle School students visit their lockers before heading back to class following lunch on Thursday. Funding for staffing and programs at LMS and all schools in the La Grande School District appears solid because the district is projected to receive a boost in money from the state. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
La Grande anticipating an increase of $800,000 in state funding for upcoming school year
Bright financial news added a sense of radiance to Willow Elementary School’s moderately lit gym Wednesday night.
La Grande Superintendent Larry Glaze announced that the budget outlook for the school district is better than it has been in years. Glaze told the school district’s budget committee that the district is expected to receive an increase of more than $800,000 in state revenue in 2013-14. The more robust budget picture is a welcome change from recent years in which the district has been in a seemingly perpetual budget cutting mode due to reduced state funding and falling enrollment.
“This is the first time in my five years as superintendent that we will not be cutting programs, staff or school days,” Glaze said.
The superintendent is proposing that the school district use some of its additional money to hire up to three special education paraprofessionals, also known as teaching assistants. The number of the special education paraprofessionals hired would depend on the needs of the school district.
Glaze also said that he hopes some of the additional money can go toward providing cost of living increases to the school district’s teachers and classified staff employees.
“We are hopeful that we will have the opportunity to do this,” Glaze said.
The school district’s teachers and classified staff have not received an increase in base pay for at least five years. Their current contracts expire June 30.
Glaze would like to see the school district reach multi-year contract agreements with its teachers and classified staff. In recent years all bargaining agreements between the school district and the classified staff and teacher unions have been for one year. Bargaining teams for the school district and its teachers and employees have had to spend an enormous amount of time each year negotiating contracts as a result.
“Negotiating contracts is an extremely time consuming and costly process,” Glaze said.
“(Settling on a multi-year contracts) would let us focus on our real job of educating kids.”
The school district’s improved budget outlook reflects the $6.55 billion the Legislature appears set to give public schools in the 2013-15 biennium. This would provide school districts with their first increase in state funding in years.
Pat Des Jardin, a La Grande High School science and math teacher and president of the La Grande teachers union, the La Grande Education Association, said he is heartened by the improved budget news.
“It is encouraging to see some positive numbers … at least we are starting to see some comfort,”
He said he hopes the school district is able to provide all of its employees a cost of living salary increase if the positive financial numbers remain firm. Des Jardin said, though, that he understands the school district also has other pressing needs it must address, including the deferred maintenance of its buildings and staffing concerns.
The brighter financial picture has meant that rumors of budget cuts have not spread throughout the school district among teachers and staff like they have in past years, said Kevin Cahill, an LHS English and French teacher.
“It has become a rite of spring to have possible cuts worrying us,” Cahill said.
Glaze said he has felt a sense of relief this spring and has not had to agonize over difficult financial decisions.
“We are feeling pretty good about being able to provide a full year of school without making any cuts,” he said.
The La Grande School District Budget Committee will next meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Willow Elementary School conference room to discuss the district’s proposed budget. It may vote at this meeting to recommend that the school board adopt the district’s proposed $17.55 million budget.