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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow LA GRANDE DISTRICT MAKES $260,000 IN CUTS

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LA GRANDE DISTRICT MAKES $260,000 IN CUTS

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande School District's budget ax fell on Thursday.

Superintendent Jay Rowell announced $263,109 in budget cuts and adjustments that will take effect over the next month. The cuts and adjustments are needed because of a shortfall in state funding caused by a slumping economy.

Two full-time employees are losing their jobs — a district office receptionist and a high school custodian. The district's Talented and Gifted teaching position will be reduced to half-time, and district funding for the school resource officer position will be cut in half.

These are among the many reductions Rowell agonized over because they involve personnel.

"It has been painful because I love people and enjoy people. That is why I am in this job,'' Rowell said.

The closeness Rowell feels toward those who work for him made the process that much harder.

"It (the school district) is our family. There have been a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of long days (because of the budget cut decisions),'' Rowell said.

La Grande's TAG program will continue operating despite the reduction of its position. The director will focus on serving elementary age students. Some responsibilities now handled by the director will be handled by other faculty.

Another cut involving personnel involves payments for the school resource officer at the high school and middle school. The contribution the school district makes for the officer's salary has been cut in half. This will save the school district $12,500.

The school officer position will continue for the rest of the academic year since a portion of the position is funded by the City of La Grande. The city will continue to provide funding for the position at least through the school year, Rowell said.

The school resource officer is a member of the La Grande Police Department.

A number of non-personnel reductions were also made. One involves the school district's food service program. The district had budgeted $30,000 to supplement the program this year. The amount the district will spend will be cut by $25,000, however. The program is becoming more efficient and needs less money.

Another $75,000 will be saved this year by delaying the purchase of science curriculum materials for students in elementary school and the high school until 2003-2004.

The $263,109 in cuts and adjustments will protect the school district in the event Oregon voters, as expected, reject the proposed state income tax surcharge, Measure 28, in a Jan. 28 election.

If the income tax surcharge fails, the district would lose $400,000. The district will not have to make additional cuts if the measure fails because of the $263,109 in cuts and adjustments it has just made, Rowell said.

Should Measure 28 pass in January, the $400,000 La Grande would receive would go toward the district's 2003-04 budget.

Unfortunately, the district is not out of the financial woods yet for 2002-2003, Rowell said. Earlier this month, the state announced a $111 million shortfall in the revenue forecast for the remainder of the 2001-2003

biennium.

If the state makes across-the-board cuts to handle this shortfall, the

La Grande School District's share of these cuts will be about $200,000. This reduction would have to be made for the current school year.

The 2003 Legislature will probably vote in January on how to handle the cuts necessary because of the shortfall.

Rowell said that his main objective while making the reductions and adjustments was to avoid doing anything that would have a direct impact on students.

For example, he did not want to eliminate an elementary school classroom because this would force students to be transferred in the middle of the year. The superintendent said he wanted to keep programs intact that help students stay in school so he did not cut extra-duty contracts for those who help with things such as coaching and putting on plays and musicals.

Rowell did not need school board approval to make the cuts. Still, he consulted with the school board in executive session Wednesday before making the reductions.

"The district is still progressing. Regardless (of the budget problems) good things are happening for the kids,'' Rowell said.

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