May 02, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Most Union and Wallowa county school boards will be faced with more agonizing budget decisions if Oregon voters reject Measure 13 in the May 21 primary election.

Measure 13 would take money from the state's Educational Endowment Fund and use it to create a rainy day fund for schools. The measure would allow legislators to spend $220 million in the education endowment fund on schools for 2002-03.

The catch is that in future years school districts will probably have to make a greater number of cuts if Measure 13 passes.

Passage of Measure 13 would mean that Oregon's schools would have almost no reserve fund to draw upon in future years. A reserve may be even more critical in the future because the funding picture for schools is so bleak.

Northeast Oregon school districts are facing a dark financial outlook because of falling enrollment. This has a major impact on funding since school districts receive nearly $5,000 per student from the state.

Wallowa School District Superintendent Ed Jensen said that Measure 13 is a no- win situation.

"Do you want to be hung with an old rope or a new rope?'' Jensen said. "It is a tough decision for voters to make.''

The Wallowa district would have to cut another $140,000 from its budget if Measure 13 fails, Jensen said. Wallowa already has had to cut two teaching positions and two teacher aides from its 2002-03 budget.

Projected cuts in school districts are based on earlier figures from the Oregon Legislature. The amounts could change based on the latest revenue forecast the Legislature will have when it meets this spring for a third special session.

The situation is more dire in the Enterprise School District. The district will have to cut $300,000 from its budget if Measure 13 fails, said Enterprise Superintendent Bill Eggers. This would mean that six teaching positions would have to be cut. This would be a severe blow since the district already has cut 15 teaching positions over the past two years because of budget problems.

Consequences also promise to be severe in the Elgin School District. The school board has formulated its budget on the assumption that Measure 13 will fail, said Elgin Superintendent Kerma Berry. The budget calls for a total of five teaching and non-teaching positions to be cut. A portion of these positions will be restored if Measure 13 passes, Berry said.

The La Grande School District expects to cut $850,000 from its budget if Measure 13 fails. It has not been determined what cuts would have to be made should the measure fail, said Laura Tucker, the La Grande School District's business manager.

The district already has announced that it will have to make a number of cuts even if the measure passes. It will cut one full-time teaching position at the high school, half a kindergarten teaching position and .35 of an elementary school music teaching position. In addition, one-half of an administrative position will be trimmed. These cuts are expected to be formally approved later by the school board.

The Union School District will also be hit hard if Measure 13 fails. The school board will have to cut between $175,000 and $200,000 from the district's budget if Measure 13 fails, said Union Superintendent Mike Wood.

The school district already has laid off one custodian and cut two teaching positions to balance its 2002-03 budget. The teaching positions will be cut by not filling two of the three openings created by retirements.

Wood said that any future reductions will involve program cuts. He said that this is because all of the fat has been cut out of the district's budget.

"I feel more like a butcher than an artist when I'm managing decline,'' Wood said. "...It is a spooky situation.''

The picture is brighter in the North Powder School District. There will be no layoffs if Measure 13 fails, said North Powder Superintendent Kerri Smith. The school district earlier cut one teaching position from its 2002-03 budget. Nobody was laid off since the school board decided that an opening would not be filled.

The Cove School District will probably have to cut about $60,000 if Measure 13 fails, said Cove Superintendent Arnold Coe. The school board earlier decided to cut half an administrative position from the district's 2002-03 budget regardless of whether Measure 13 passes or fails. The cut will be done by not filling an opening created by a retirement.

The Joseph School District will have to cut another $100,000 from its budget if Measure 13 does not pass, said Joseph Superintendent Rich Graham. The district already has cut two full-time teaching positions, two half-time teaching positions and two teacher aides from its 2002-03 budget.

The outlook is also bleak in the Imbler School District. The district will have to make $144,000 in additional cuts if Measure 13 fails. Imbler has already had to cut three instructional assistants, and half a high school teaching position from its 2002-03 budget.

"It (the failure of Measure 13) would be devastating for our district,'' said Imbler Superintendent Larry Glaze.