TOUGH CHOICES AHEAD FOR SCHOOLS

March 14, 2002 12:00 am

Enterprise schools are once again faced with making substantial cuts in the budget to make up for projected losses in revenue due to declining enrollment. The school district has to cut nearly $600,000 out of next years budget. Other districts that are seeing declining enrollments will be facing a similar challenge as budgets are prepared this spring. The prospects arent good. The quality of our childrens education will be impacted.

Oregons school children are paying the price for Measures 5 and 47/50, approved by voters in the 1990s. The measures limited property taxes and shifted control of school budgets to the state, which reimburses districts on a per-student basis. The measures did away with local control of school budgets. Communities dont have the opportunity to bail out their schools in times of financial crises. Enterprise, Elgin, La Grande and any district that is seeing enrollments decline cant fix the problem themselves. Their only opportunity to balance budgets is to make cuts.

Deciding how to apply the knife, or the ax in the case of Enterprise, isnt easy. Districts can and should look at administrative costs first. But the decisions get tougher. Do you eliminate entire programs or spread the cuts across the board? Do you cut extracurricular activities in order to spare educational programs? Do you cut music and art in order to maintain class sizes in academics?

Enterprise wont replace a veteran art teacher who is retiring, and elementary art apparently will go by the wayside. It will shift some administrators so that one fills the superintendents position that will be vacated June 30 by the resignation of Bill Eggers. The district will be cutting some extracurriculars, such as cross country, the dance team and golf. A half-million-plus in budget cuts will take a bite. The decisions arent easy.

Districts faced with making substantial cuts would be doing their students a disservice if programs such as music and art had to give way to ensure that football and basketball would be fully funded. A school districts first priority is education. Athletics can sustain some cuts and make up the difference through community fund-raising.

School administrators, budget committees and school boards throughout Northeast Oregon will be making some tough choices in the weeks ahead. The guiding principle must be doing whats best for students education. A community, after all, is known by the schools it keeps.

And perhaps somewhere in the process someone, somewhere will get an inkling that Measures 5/47/50 arent working in the best interest of Oregons future and need to be changed through the initiative process. A lot of voters, especially those unhappy with crowded classrooms and increasingly limited educational opportunities, would probably be willing to support such an initiative.