April 30, 2001 11:00 pm

Small schools need

to consolidate services

Enterprise schools are in a jam. A couple of months ago, the school district announced the district would lose about $400,000 next school year because of declining enrollment. Rather than wait to make adjustments, the district decided it would take the necessary action of deciding where budget cuts would be made.

The news hasnt gotten any better. Additional declines in enrollment 14 at the elementary school since February mean that the district will lose even more money next year. Almost $300,000 more. And with the states highest unemployment rate, no one knows how many more families might be on their way out of Wallowa County in search of work between now and when school opens in September.

The district has to balance its budget. If it looks like the district will see $300,000 less in state revenue, the budget must match. And that will mean more staff cuts and perhaps the elimination of programs such as art and music.

Superintendent Bill Eggers was up front with the school board about the severity of the problem. He said there would be a lot on the table for discussion, including his own position. He questioned if a district with 500 students could afford three full-time administrators.

The board directed him to have a proposal put together for a special meeting at 7 p.m. today.

The choices facing Enterprise are not good. The only way to save that amount of money is to cut staff and possibly eliminate some offerings. Considering the number of students in the district, administration will have to be part of the mix.

Enterprises situation is severe, but the community is not alone in dealing with declining enrollments. Small districts are paying the price. Finding local solutions are limited due to 1990s Measure 5 property tax limitation, which took funding issues out of the hands of citizens and placed them with the state. Enrollment is the critical factor in determining funding.

As a matter of survival, small schools such as those in Wallowa and Union counties need to find more ways to consolidate services and programs. Its not an issue communities like to talk about. Each district has a lot of pride. But the nature of Oregons school funding structure will necessitate the consolidation of more and more services, and eventually districts themselves.

Districts faced with the reality of declining enrollment and funding need to consider ways to streamline. One option is opening a discussion with neighboring districts about ways to save. Out of necessity those talks will have to involve administration and programs.

Consolidating services makes more sense than boosting class size and eliminating programs. Art and music usually get the ax first. But does that serve kids and their need for a well-rounded education? Districts must work together to find solutions that are in the best interest of kids.