The La Grande School District may soon have physical education teachers at each of its three grade schools plus a second counselor at its middle school.

The La Grande School District’s budget committee voted to recommend the school board adopt a general fund budget of $25.1 million, up 1.5% from the present year’s budget.

The proposed budget would result in the school district adding three physical education teachers, one at each of its elementary schools. The school district presently has no grade school PE teachers.

A PE teacher would be added at Central Elementary by not filling a certified librarian position opening created by a resignation. Central’s library would then be served solely by a library assistant now at the school. This move would not cost the school district additional funding.

“It would be budget neutral,” said La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza.

The two other grade school PE positions and the middle school counselor would be added by taking up to $300,000 from the district’s reserve fund.

Mendoza said that taking this money from the reserve fund would not have negative budget implications if the Student Success Act, passed by the Legislature earlier this month, takes effect. The Student Success Act would impose a business tax that would raise $1 billion a year for public schools in Oregon.

Mendoza noted though that there is a chance an initiative petition may be placed before voters asking them to repeal the Student Success Act. Should voters approve such a petition, the La Grande School District, after adding the PE teachers and counselor, would face a budget crunch that would force it to draw down other funds, possibly including ones for building
maintenance.

The superintendent and the budget committee want to have physical education teachers at all district grade schools because this would make it easier for the school district to meet state standards for PE instruction. Their presence would also free up school counselors to spend more time helping students in need of
one-on-one services.

Presently counselors provide instruction for subjects like character education to relieve teachers for prep periods. By adding PE teachers, prep periods can occur while students are in the gym, and counselors can use that time to focus on students who need individual attention. The addition of a counselor at La Grande Middle School would boost its number of counselors to two. Budget committee members believe an additional counselor is needed at LMS because of the increasing number of students with high needs.

Mendoza formally
proposed the addition of PE teachers at Greenwood and Island City and a counselor at the start of Wednesday’s meeting. Mendoza made the proposal after budget committee members spoke out in support of making the additions at the budget committee’s May 22 meeting.

The budget committee on Wednesday expressed unanimous support for Mendoza’s proposal.

The school district’s budget is built on the assumption that the Legislature will approve a $9 billion education budget for the 2019-21 biennium. This is up $800 million from the $8.2 billion education budget the Legislature approved two years ago for the current biennium. The projected funding increase is a main reason why the La Grande School District is set to receive $1.4 million in additional revenue for 2019-20, said Chris Panike, the La Grande School District’s business manager.

The La Grande School Board will vote on adoption of the budget in June following a budget hearing.

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