May 02, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

A $294,000 budget shortfall may force the La Grande School District to cut four teaching positions for 2001-02.

The reductions would not result in layoffs because four teachers are scheduled to retire at the end of the school year. Two teaching positions would be cut at the high school and two would be cut at the elementary school level.

La Grande School District Superintendent Jerry Sessions proposed the reductions Wednesday at a meeting of the districts budget committee. Sessions is also proposing that the district cut its halftime drug and alcohol counseling position at the high school. The position is now filled by a counselor contracted by the school district through the Center for Human Development.

The reductions of the four teachers and the halftime drug and alcohol counseling position would save the district $228,000.

Sessions is also proposing that the district cut its driver education program. This would save about $15,000. Sessions said students would still be able to receive driver education instruction via the Union-Baker Education Service District.

In addition, the superintendent is proposing that the school freeze its supply budget and cut its number of supervisory positions by three. The school district has already made supervisory staff reductions. The reductions would be maintained if Sessions proposed budget is approved by the school board.

The district earlier cut its food service, business office and grounds maintenance supervisory positions. The reductions were made by consolidating positions and not replacing supervisors who left the district.

Those who have not been replaced include food service director Sally Bartlett, who left last fall to take a position with the state of Idaho. Gary Howland, the districts plant operations director, has since taken over the food service supervisor responsibilities.

The districts budget reductions are necessary because of declining enrollment and increasing energy and health insurance costs.

Declining enrollment is having the biggest impact on the districts budget. The district has lost 100 students since the school year started and at least 500 since 1991. This is having a major impact on the budget since school districts receive about $5,000 per student from the state.

Sessions said that most of the students lost this school year have left the district because their families are leaving the area for higher paying jobs.