April 17, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

A bleak budget outlook for 2001-02 is forcing the Imbler School District to make staff reductions.

The school district will cut 1.5 teaching positions, a bus driver and reduce a dish-washing position by two-thirds because of a projected $111,000 budget shortfall for the coming year.

Money for these positions is not in the school districts proposed budget.

The Imbler School Board might vote on whether to approve the budget at its May 8 meeting.

Under the proposed budget, the following teaching positions would be cut: 0.5 of a kindergarten position, 0.5 of a foreign language teaching position and .5 of a music teaching position.

Imbler Superintendent Larry Glaze said that deciding what cuts need to be made has been a painful process.

It is a very heavy burden. The decisions have been agonizing, Glaze said. It is hard to be judicious and fair. ... There is no textbook for making budget cuts.

The reduction of the kindergarten teaching position means that Imblers extended day kindergarten program would be cut. Imbler will retain its morning kindergarten program though. Presently all kindergarten students attend kindergarten in the morning and leave at 1 p.m. after lunch. Some kindergartners stay after 1 p.m. to receive additional help in the extended day program.

The loss of the music teacher position would impact elementary school students. Students in kindergarten through fourth grade would no longer receive music instruction. Band would continue to be offered to students in grades 5-6. Music classes would be taught in grades 7-12.

The loss of a full-time bus driver would force the district to consolidate its five bus routes to four, Glaze said.

The dish-washing position reduction means that a six-hour position will be trimmed to two hours.

Imblers situation has been further exasperated by the fact that a fifth-grade teacher was cut for 2001-02 earlier this year to save money.

A teacher will be brought from the high school to the elementary school to make up for the loss. The high school teacher has elementary teaching experience.

Imblers budget shortfall is caused by declining enrollment and increases in the cost of electricity and natural gas, medical insurance, employee benefits and salaries.

Imblers enrollment decline has been dramatic. The district lost 20 students over the past year and 70 over the past five years. This has cost the school district enormously because schools receive about $5,000 a year from the state per student.

Glaze hopes that no more cuts are necessary, but the possibility exists. He explained that the districts budget was developed on the assumption that Gov. John Kitzhabers proposed $5.2 billion education budget for kindergarten through 12th grade for 2001-03 is approved.

There is a move in the Legislature to trim the governors proposal. Glaze said that a reduction would force Imbler and other school districts to make additional cuts.