By SVERRE BAKKE
The White Salmon Valley School District's board of directors, meeting last Thursday in special session, took its first step toward addressing a projected $438,000 cutback in state education funding for the 2009-10 school year.
Board chairman Kris Kreps and members Kristie Hurn, Jeff Cooper, and Paul Mosbrucker voted unanimously for a resolution that directed Superintendent Dale Palmer to abridge the district's educational program for next year by eliminating or reducing some certificated instructional staff positions.
The board laid out its reasoning in the three-page resolution, concluding "that for 2009-10, financial resources are not reasonably assured to the district to maintain its education program and services substantially at the same level as the current year ..."
According to Palmer, the loss of $437,852 in state assistance -- the result of budget-balancing actions taken by the Legislature -- represents a 3.5 percent blow to the district's $12 million budget.
Moreover, the school board had to "non-tender" certificated employees affected by budget cutbacks prior to the May 15 statutory deadline for giving such notice.
"You have to do these kinds of things when you take that kind of hit" on top of already declining enrollment, Palmer told the board and an audience of 12.
Programs at Columbia High School impacted by last Thursday's board action are Mathematics, Career & Technical Education (CTE), and Alternative School. The Math and Alternative School programs are both losing a 1.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) position, while the CTE program is losing one class period a day in Vocational/Agriculture instruction and two class periods a day in Technology instruction.
At Wayne M. Henkle Middle School, two positions -- a .7 FTE Reading specialist and a .67 FTE Art specialist -- are being lost. Hulan L. Whitson Elementary School, for its part, is having its program reduced by 1.5 FTE positions.
Also being eliminated are a .62 FTE K-12 Music position and, on the administrative side, a .25 FTE Assessment Coordinator position.
But, as Palmer noted at one point during the 50-minute special meeting in the CHS library, the cut in certificated staffing -- considered necessary to protect the district from making financial commitments it can't afford -- is just the first of many budget-balancing measures the district will have to enact.
Palmer said last Friday, "I'm hoping to have some options for additional cuts prepared for the May 20 board meeting, but I don't know if all of the options will be ready at that time. I hope the board will make some decision on those that are ready."
Among the items the board discussed at its April 15 meeting were classified and administrative staffing, the afternoon bus run for Whitson Elementary, athletics programs, building and maintenance projects, district-funded field trips, technology purchases, staff development, and using M&O levy funds to hire back staff.
Palmer said he also hopes the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will have better budget information available before the next school board meeting. Of particular concern, he noted, is how much the district will receive from the state in levy equalization payments.
Until he knows for certain, however, Palmer said the district must move forward with planning for the 2009-10 school year.
"Our goal right now is to make cuts that are in line with the state budget cuts," Palmer said. "Then, after we have gone through the process of setting our budget and know where we stand (with regard to revenue), we will hire back as many staff as possible."