Budgets vary from town to town

Written by Katy Nesbitt/The Observer July 01, 2013 10:45 am

 School is out for students and teachers in Wallowa County, but the administrators have a watchful eye on how the state Legislature will fund the next biennium.

While the economy slowly recovers, the overall state school funding is improving, but in rural communities there is another factor at work — dropping enrollment. Superintendent Brad Royse said the Enterprise School District lost 20 students over the last two school years. At $6,000 per student from the state, that loss of funding makes an impact.

“The state is doing a better job financing us, but we are losing kids,” Royse said.

The district’s enrollment remained flat for a long time, Royse said, but now students are leaving.

For the 2013-2014 school year, Royse said the district will be tapping into its reserves to the tune of roughly $500,000. The district is paying 34 percent more this year toward the Public Employees Retirement System, an increase of $134,000. The loss of 20 students cost the district $145,136.

If the trend continues, the district may be out of reserves by 2016, Royse said.

Stop-gap measures

Last year, the district cut its media budget, expecting to bring it back this year, something that will not happen after all. With the retirement of Lil Conrad, the school’s physical education teacher, the district is only going to fund PE on a part-time basis.

So far, the Secure Rural Schools federal funding, a stop-gap measure to support public programs that have been hurt by the loss of the timber industry, has also gone away for a loss of $108,000.

Royse said another challenge is funding cuts occur during the school year. He said the district’s budget has been reduced as much as three times in a single year.

The state measures a school’s success based on math, science, reading and writing.

“We have to focus on those for funding,” Royse said.

PE is only required during the freshman year of high school, and the Enterprise Education Foundation picks up the tab for art and elementary music. He said he is looking at grants to help fund PE.

Wallowa facing its own challenges

The Wallowa School District is also facing declining enrollment and needs $328,000 from its reserve fund to balance its 2013-2014 budget.

Superintendent Bret Uptmor said he expects the school’s total enrollment might drop by 14 students this year. 

“There are people moving out of the county that will drop our enrollment and I fear that number will be right,” he said.

Uptmor said he based his $3.1 million budget on the state’s March projection but knows that it might change. Depending on the passage of the state’s budget, Wallowa’s may change as well.

“I feel comfortable with what we got, but I don’t feel comfortable dipping into the reserves,” Uptmor said.

Federal money up in the air

Federal title money is also up in the air as the rural schools wait to see what the U.S. Congress decides to do. With so many unknowns, Uptmor said he drew up the district’s budget without the title money they are used to receiving.

Increases in salary and retirement impacted the budget the most, Uptmor said, but he is able to maintain his current staffing.

Joseph Charter School’s state funding on the upswing

The Joseph Charter School drew up a $2.1 million budget for the coming school year and Superintendent Rhonda Shirley said its state funding is up $400,000 from last year.

In September, the school will start its third year as a charter school, which increased technology and arts.

“The charter school curriculum allows us to bring more technology into the classrooms and integrate the arts,” Shirley said.

Shirley said local artists come into the seventh- through 12th-grade classrooms and each student receives 20 hours of instruction.

The charter program requires teachers to beef up their technology training and puts more computers in the classrooms. Next year they will add more computers in the elementary school and a robotics class for the eighth grade has been added, said Shirley.

The school offers full-day kindergarten and its incoming class is 33 students, so the district hired a second kindergarten teacher. They’ve also hired an English teacher for the junior and senior highs, replacing Marylou Guenert who retired, and a new part-day sixth-grade teacher will teach social studies and PE as well.

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