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School Officials Ready For Next Year

Staffing cuts finalized by board

Even as the 2003-04 school year enters its final three weeks, White Salmon Valley School District officials are getting ready for the next.

District administrators and business personnel have drafted a $9.742 million budget for 2004-05 based on a projected enrollment of 1,129 full-time equivalent (FTE) students.

The district is proposing to provide educational and support services to those students with 68.5 certificated employees (administrators and teachers) and 63 classified employees (office staff, classroom aides, transportation personnel, bus drivers and kitchen help).

White Salmon schools began 2003-04 with 72.75 certificated employees and 67 classfied staff members.

Staffing cuts finalized by the school board during its last three monthly meetings called for the elimination of several jobs to bring the district's projected 2004-05 expenditures in line with anticipated revenues.

In March, the board cut 5.5 FTE teaching positions in response to the district's shrinking student enrollment.

Action taken at the April meeting abolished Columbia High School's dean of students, a position under CHS Principal Tim McGlothlin that encompasses a range of duties, including disciplining students.

The school board also approved elimination of a TASK Room aide position and Title VII grant coordinator position upon the grant's expiration. In addition, the board OK'd cuts in hours for custodial, secretarial and library staff.

Finally, at its May 20 meeting, the school board reduced hours at Whitson Elementary School and Henkle Middle School for classifed staff positions in state and federally funded educational programs.

"We made enough cuts the last few months to last a lifetime, I hope," Superintendent Dale Palmer said, then added, "It hasn't been fun, but it's been necessary."

The staffing cuts were necessitated by a projected budget deficit of nearly of $424,000, Palmer pointed out.

However, some of the cuts in certified staffing have now been offset by almost $341,000 in state funding that will come to the district under Initiative 728, the class-size reduction measure enacted by voters in November 2000.

School directors adopted the district's I-728 plan May 20. The plan calls for expenditures of more than $257,000 to address class-size reduction.

Greater than anticipated revenue from that source of state funding allowed the school board to restore 3.5 of the 5.5 classified FTEs it cut in March.

"Thank goodness for I-728," Palmer said.

Under the district's I-728 plan, the school board added back 2 FTE teaching positions at Columbia High and 1.5 at Henkle. However, it couldn't justify reinstating a social studies position at Henkle and a consumer science position at CHS.

"We weren't able to include those two positions in our I-728 plan because they didn't fit the class-size reduction guidelines" mandated by the legislation, Palmer noted.

So, the White Salmon Valley School District will enter 2004-05 with a combined certificated and classified staff designed to serve a projected student population that has gone from 1,191 in 2003-04 to 1,129 in 2004-05.

The expected drop in enrollment is reflected in the proposed budget for the next school year.

Last summer, the school board predicted nearly $10.2 million in 2003-04 revenues based on the district-wide enrollment projection.

But, when early enrollment censuses from each school showed the district would fall far short of its projection, the school board was compelled to take actions that would protect the district's reserve fund balance from depletion.

Last fall, the school board directed Palmer to slash spending where possible and to start planning cuts for the next school year.

Next year's preliminary budget sets aside a beginning reserve fund balance of $320,000 and anticipates an ending fund balance of $326,402. Palmer, however, is hoping the district will end next year with between $350,000 and $375,000 in reserves.

Still, according to Palmer, all those figures fall short of the school board's reserve target of 5 percent of the district's annual expenditures.

As a result, district patrons and employees can expect to see further tightening of their schools' fiscal belt over the next few years as administrators rein in expenditures until they fit anticipated revenues.

"We've been fortunate to accomplish a lot the last few years with the funding we've had at our disposal," Palmer said. "The challenge now is to accomplish as much, if not more, with less funding and less staff. Knowing the quality of the people we have working in this district, I think we'll be up to it."

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