LA GRANDE — The immediate budget picture for the La Grande School District looks solid despite the recession Oregon is recovering from.

La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza said Wednesday, Nov. 18, the district’s budget outlook for the current academic year is stable.

“Our budget will not be reduced in any way, there will be no cuts, everything will remain intact,” Mendoza said at a school board meeting.

One reason the district’s financial situation looks good is that expenses are down, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. School district budget director Chris Panike noted travel expenses are almost nonexistent. There is much less need for staff travel in part because of the pandemic, which has dramatically reduced the number of in-person meetings across the state.

The La Grande School District also has the a strong cash carryover from the 2019-20 school year. This was made possible in part by savings the school district enjoyed in the spring of this year on travel, busing and other expenses in the immediate months after the pandemic started, Panike said.

Clouds may loom on the horizon though for the 2021-22 school year, when Mendoza said a state budget shortfall is projected because of declining income tax revenue due to the recession caused by the pandemic. Such a shortfall could result in a reduced availability of state funding for schools.

On the plus side, Panike said funding in several of the state’s reserve funds is solid. Money from these could offset a loss of state revenue in the 2021-23 biennium.

Falling enrollment also could hurt the school district financially. The district’s enrollment as of the Oct. 1 reporting date was down 134 students from a year ago.

This could cost the school district $1.1 million because the district receives $8,600 per student from the state.

Much of the enrollment decline has been in kindergarten through third grade. Panike said this may be because more parents are homeschooling younger children or enrolling them in online programs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has interrupted in-person education.

Still, Panike said, the district anticipates many of these children returning to school after the pandemic. That could create a bulge in primary grade enrollment, Mendoza said, and a need for more teachers and staff.

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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