May 30, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

ELGIN — The Elgin School Board is again reaching for its budget-cutting ax.

The school board voted Thursday to cut a total of four full-time teaching positions to balance its 2002-03 budget.

The cuts are necessary because of a funding shortfall brought on by declining enrollment and the failure of Measure 13. The cuts will save the school district between $160,000 and $170,000.

"This is getting very frustrating and very old,'' school board member Bud Scoubes said.

"The cuts definitely are not fair" to students,'' added board member Tom Arrand. "We are trying to get the kids a better education, but we can't.''

A year ago the school board was forced to trim $100,000 because of fiscal problems. The school district has been forced to cut more than 12 full-time teaching and staff positions over the past decade because of funding shortfalls.

The four positions the board will cut for 2002-03 will be announced later.

Elgin School District Superintendent Kerma Berry said that making staff cuts is a painful process.

"It is not fun because it affects people,'' Berry said. "Everyone is trying so hard to provide education and support for our students.''

A portion of the cuts made Thursday were necessary because of the voters' rejection of Measure 13 on May 21. The measure would have allowed the state to convert its education endowment fund into a "rainy day fund'' which it could use for school operating expenses. The education endowment fund, which has more than $200 million, can now be used only for capital construction and scholarships.

Berry said that cuts would have been necessary even if Measure 13 had passed, but they would not have been as deep. Declining enrollment is the reason that cuts would have been needed regardless of how the measure fared.

Enrollment has a tremendous impact on funding since school districts receive about $5,000 from the state per student. The school district has lost 113 students in the past six years. The district had 538 students in 1997 and now has 425.

There is an outside chance that the school board could restore some of the positions it cut Thursday. This would occur if the Legislature votes to provide additional funding to schools to help replace the funds that were expected if Measure 13 had passed.