LA GRANDE — The La Grande School Board adopted a 2020-21 budget Wednesday designed to put it in a better position to weather possible financial shortfalls.

The school board adopted a general fund spending plan of $26.39 million that will allow the district to maintain all programs and staff while boosting reserves significantly. The proposal is $1.18 million greater than the 2019-20 budget and will allow the school district to build up reserves it likely will need a year from now to deal with expected state budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown.

The school district will not spend state money it has saved since mid-March when all schools in the state were closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The school district has saved a total of $900,000 since then, including $250,000 on substitute teaching costs, $300,000 on employee pay due to furlough days, and savings on transportation and athletics expenses, according to Chris Panike, the district’s business manager.

The intent of building up reserves is to put the La Grande School District in a position to withstand projected decreases in state funding in 2021-22 and 2022-23. It appears there may not be a decrease in state funding in 2020-21. Local education leaders, including La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza, said they anticipate the Legislature will decide this summer to provide extra funding to schools. This would allow them to receive all the funding the Legislature indicated it would provide in 2020-21 when it passed an education budget of $9 billion for the biennium.

Panike emphasized the budget was difficult to build because there are so many financial unknowns due the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think this budget is as good as it can be with what we know about funding for next year,” he said.

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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