June 20, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

ISLAND CITY — The Union-Baker Education Service District Board adopted a $14.7 million budget for 2002-03 Thursday that calls for the reduction of 15 teaching and about 30 classified non-teaching positions.

Put away the weeping and wailing. It was not a somber occasion.

Almost all of the teachers and staff members will be offered comparable jobs by the school districts they work in, said Union-Baker ESD Superintendent Ed Schumacher.

School districts in Union and Baker counties will be providing many of their own special education services beginning next fall.

Previously, the school districts received their special education services from the Union-Baker ESD, based in Island City. The school districts paid the ESD for 12 services under a consortium agreement. The ESD pooled the money and provided services to school districts in two counties.

Under a new agreement, the consortium will remain in place but on a reduced level. Members of the consortium will receive five services instead of 12. The services the members will receive include occupational and physical therapy, speech therapy, diagnostician services, nursing services and supervision of ESD programs. The schools will pay for the other eight services on an as-needed basis or provide them themselves.

All of the school districts in Union and Baker counties will provide their own special education services under the new consortium agreement.

Schumacher said that all but one or two of the teachers are expected to be hired by the school districts where they work.

The change in the consortium arrangement has been made because of the financial hardships school districts in Northeast Oregon have been experiencing. The change gives school districts a tighter grip on their money.

Schumacher said the change will have a significant impact on the ESD because it will no longer have the same funding base.

Schumacher said the ESD will be put in the position of having to market its services.

A bill passed by the Legislature in 2001 will make it easier for the ESD to market its services and contract with private companies.

Schumacher said that being able to do this will ultimately allow the ESD to serve schools better. For example, a school district might be able to pay for .75 of a computer networking position. It is often hard to find people who will work part-time, Schumacher said. The ESD, however, could make it a full-time position by selling the other 25 percent of the employee's services to a private company.