April 17, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande School District could cut two teaching positions and draw $294,301 from its contingency fund to balance its 2002-03 budget.

Superintendent Dan Arriola's proposal calls for the district to cut one full-time teaching position at the high school, half of a kindergarten teaching position and .35 of an elementary school music teaching position. In addition, one-half of an administrative position would be trimmed.

The high school teaching position would be reduced by not filling a vacancy created by a retirement.

The half-time kindergarten teaching position would be trimmed by cutting back Willow Elementary School's program. Willow has a full-day kindergarten program and it would be trimmed to a half day. Presently, only Willow and Riveria elementary schools offer full-day kindergarten in the district.

The district's elementary school music program will remain intact in spite of the .35 cut of a teaching position.

Under Arriola's proposal, the half-time administrative position would be cut in part by shifting Riveria principal Sandi Donnelly to a counseling position at Island City and Willow elementary schools.

Donnelly will be moved from the principal's position because Riveria will close permanently in June. Donnelly has been Riveria's principal since late December. She had been a counselor for about 20 years in the school district before taking the position.

Drawing $294,301 from the school district's contingency fund will reduce it to $423,162. This is reducing the contingency fund to a dangerously low level of 2.6 percent of the total general fund budget, said business manager Laura Tucker. Ideally it is best to keep a district's contingency fund at 5 percent of the total budget, she said.

The district's budget picture is being aided considerably by the closure of Riveria. The school, built in 1912, is being shut down because of its poor condition.

The closure will save the district $270,000 through reduced personnel, utility, maintenance and repair costs. A total of four non-teaching positions will be cut because of Riveria's closure. The number being laid off could be less, however, depending upon resignations and retirements in the district.

The district's cuts are significantly less than they would have been because of a 6 percent freeze on equipment and supply budgets that took effect in February. This has saved the district $222,000.

The district is facing a budget crunch in part because of a declining enrollment. It has lost about 650 students since 1990-91. Enrollment is a critical issue since the state provides school support based on the student figures.

The proposed budget will be discussed by the district's budget committee on May 15.