LA GRANDE — The La Grande School Board, responding to declining enrollment, has voted to adopt a 2022-23 budget that will cut nine positions but not call for any layoffs.

The school board voted on Wednesday, June 22, to adopt a 2022-23 general fund budget of $29.65 million. The budget calls for three teaching and six staff positions to be eliminated because of falling enrollment.

However, adoption of the budget will not result in any layoffs since reductions would be made through attrition. The positions that will be cut are either currently not filled, will be vacated due to retirement and the like, or the employee will be moved to another position within the district.

“The budget is conservative but it will allow the school district to continue to provide great service,” school board member Joe Justice said.

Removing the three teaching positions will save almost $299,000 and trimming the six classified positions would save more than $236,000. Classified positions include cooks, custodians and maintenance staff, La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza told the board earlier this month.

In addition to the nine position cuts, the budget calls for an assistant principal position to be reduced to a dean of students position, saving nearly $13,800.

The $29.65 million general fund budget is up $2.58 million from the present budget. Much of the increase reflects a higher than anticipated boost in what the state will be paying school districts per student in 2022-23. Mendoza said it had been anticipated the state would be paying school districts $8,700 per student but instead districts will be receiving $9,400 per student.

The main reason for the increase is that enrollment in Oregon’s schools has dropped about 30,000 over the past year, Mendoza said, but the amount of money allotted by the state for school districts in 2022-23 has not changed, meaning the state has more money available per student. Mendoza said the school district also has a significant amount of COVID-19 relief funds for the next two school years, but the district is restricted in what it can spend the relief funds on.

After two years, the school district will have little if any COVID-19 funding remaining to buffer its enrollment decline, he said, meaning the chance of layoffs starting in the 2024-25 school year will be much greater if enrollment does not rise significantly.

The school district’s enrollment has been declining since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Oregon in March 2020 and now stands at about 240 fewer students.

Justice believes one reason for the decline is that parents and students want consistency and stability. School districts lost an element of this during the pandemic when they were switching from online to in-person instruction and a hybrid learning model, which is a combination of both.

“We understand the instability challenges for families,” Justice said.

He added that he hopes that as stability improves in the post-pandemic environment, more parents will enroll their children again in the La Grande School District. Justice said the new athletic and academic center the school district will be constructing over the next two years may also boost enrollment.

“It will show how serious our community is about education,” Justice said.

The athletic and academic center will replace the school district’s aging Annex gym building and will be constructed with funds from a $4.845 million bond school district voters approved in May and a $4 million matching state grant. Justice said enrollment in school districts often rises after a bond has been approved. He noted that enrollment increased after La Grande School District passed a $31.85 million bond in 2014 for capital construction and major building upgrades.

“Hopefully, this will happen with the passage of the latest one,” Justice said.

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Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer primarily covering 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.

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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