April 23, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The impact of declining enrollment in Northeast Oregons schools is hitting the Union-Baker Education Service District.

The ESD will cut four special education positions for 2001-02 because of falling enrollments in Union and Baker county school districts. The reductions will allow the district to continue offering the same level of special education services to Union and Baker county schools without increasing fees, said ESD Superintendent Ed Schumacher.

He explained that the number of special eduction students in Union and Baker counties has declined as general enrollment has fallen. Thus the number of teachers needed for special education students has also decreased.

A total of 2.5 special education teaching positions will be cut plus 1.5 instructional assistant


Without the cuts, school districts in the two counties would have had to pay substantially more for special education services in 2001-02. Schumacher said school districts cannot afford the increase because of declining enrollments. The districts lose about $5,000 per student from the state when enrollment declines.

The ESD has not increased what it charges for special education services for about 18 years. The service district has been able to avoid raising what it charges because of an increasing number of contracts for services it has received.

As the ESD has become more efficient at operating these contracted programs, it has had to spend less for administrative costs. The ESD has used the money it has saved to avoid increasing what it charges school districts for special education


The ESD could not maintain its present special education staffing level for 2001-02 without increasing what it charges the districts because the funding it receives from the state has not increased for three years. Schumacher anticipates that the ESD also will not receive a funding increase in 2001-02. The Legislature has not yet decided on its state education budget for the coming biennium.

La Grande School District Superintendent Jerry Sessions said he is pleased at the level of service the ESD will be able to maintain without raising its fee.

We feel we are getting very good service from the ESD.

The ESD has tried to hold its cost down and we have been appreciative of this, Sessions said.