LA GRANDE — The La Grande School Board voted Wednesday to approve a plan that will furlough all teachers and staff one day a week for much of the remainder of 2019-20.

The purpose of the furloughs is to save money during the COVID-19 pandemic, money the district will use to buffer the impact of looming budget cuts in 2020-21. The board endorsed the furlough plan after the La Grande School District’s teacher and classified staff unions voted in support of the furlough days. Each union overwhelmingly supported the furlough days, with each voting at least 90% in favor, said La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza.

Mendoza said the school district has applied to the Oregon Work Share Program to compensate employees for the pay they will lose due to the lost workdays. The state already has agreed to provide Work Share Oregon funding to help other school districts where employees are taking furlough days, said La Grande School Board Chair Merle Comfort.

Administration, confidential and teaching staff will furlough four workdays from May 11 to June 30, and classified staff, which includes cooks, secretaries and physical plant staff, will furlough four workdays from May 14 to June 5.

The furlough program will allow the school district to save $300,000 on employee pay for the remainder of the school year.

“We are looking at many, many ways to reduce costs in the district. This is one way right now we can save money without dramatically impacting employees financially,” Mendoza said in a news release.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s shutdown order to prevent the spread of the virus has had a terrible effect on the state’s economy because it required many businesses to close. This devastated the state’s revenue picture because Oregon relies on the state income tax for the majority of its funding.

School district officials in Oregon do not know how much less funding schools will receive in 2020-21. Mendoza, however, said state officials have told school districts to expect a 17% cut. Such a cut would cost the La Grande School District about $2.55 million.

Mendoza said on the bright side the school district has a strong reserve fund, which could go a long way toward buffering the need for budget cuts.

La Grande School District’s budget manager, Chris Panike, said the school district is in a much better position to make budget reductions now than it was during the 2009 recession when the school district had a much smaller reserve fund.

Mendoza said the school district has been working since March to reduce expenditures, freezing all hiring and not filling vacancies from resignations and retirements.

School officials will have a much better idea of how much state funding the district will receive in 2020-21 after the state releases its May 20 revenue forecast. The forecast will play a major role in determining the 2020-21 budget, which the school district’s budget committee will receive at its first meeting on June 3.

The committee will have the option of approving the budget at that meeting or meeting again on June 10 and June 17.

The budget committee is responsible for approving a budget proposal that goes before the school board, which will vote on adoption June 24.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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