On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the Jackson County District 9 Board of Education took their budget workshop to the gymnasium at the Elk Trail Elementary School. Approximately 80 parents, community members and children were in attendance to learn about the budget problems and the possibility of closing the Elk Trail School due to those problems.
Superintendent Rickert gave an overview of the budget process and explained they were at Elk Trail for a community forum to share information and get input regarding the issues facing the district. She indicated that the district needs “appropriate sustainable solutions” to the financial constraints it is facing. She further stated that this is a continuing process since approximately 95% of funding is dependent on state revenue and decisions. Forecasts of state revenue have fallen and there will be one more forecast for March prior to budget finalization.
Business Manager Scott Whitman reviewed district financial information. The 2011-2012 projected D9 results show a deficit of over $1.8 million and state revenue forecasts have dropped by over $300 million since the close of the session. The challenges being faced include lower funding per student, fewer students, the end of one-time federal and state funds and increased costs associated with step rate increases, rising PERS (pension] mandated costs and general inflation for goods and services. In an attempt to solve this problem all ideas will be considered.
A number of ideas have been discussed including a saving of approximately $234,000 by consolidating Elk Trail School with Shady Cove, employee benefit proration saving $129,000, additional staff reductions $621,000 and other expenses $360,000. If all of these were implemented, spending would still exceed income by over $500,000 and would decrease reserves.
Audience members voiced their displeasure and concerns regarding the possible consolidation resulting in the closure of the Elk Trail Elementary School. Parents indicated that neighborhood schools are important and closure would be a detriment to the community. They expressed the opinion that Elk Trail was being asked to take a disproportionate hit. Questions were asked about the Shady Cove School and if the cafeteria is adequate, what class sizes would be and if teachers would move? Whitman responded that if this occurred, improvements would be made as necessary, teachers would move and class size would be relatively unaffected.
Others focused on employee costs, which make up approximately 85% of the budget. A suggestion was made to reduce wages and salaries by 6.8 to 7% since reductions have occurred in the private sector to save jobs and this would cover the revenue shortfall and save Elk Trail. In the same vein, the employees could pay the 6% PERS contribution and benefits prorated. It was explained that these issues cannot be implemented unilaterally and are subject to collective bargaining, which is in process. However, little progress has been made on economic issues and in January mediation will begin.
Questions, concerns, and ideas regarding a four-day school week, closing the district office, forming a charter school, cutting days, unfunded mandates and the use of a levy were offered. A question regarding the use or disposition of the facility was asked and the cost to maintain an empty school. It was explained that Hillside Elementary School, which is being built using money from insurance settlement following a fire will replace Little Butte Elementary School, which would also be vacant and a facility study on all properties would be required. The cost of the vacated school would vary between $6,000 to $10,000 per year.
Christine Martin presented a signed petition requesting the school remain open. She asked if there would be other opportunities to present ideas before a final decision regarding Elk Trail was made? Superintendent Rickert stated that we are in tough economic times and making reductions are always difficult. All help and ideas are welcome and will be considered. It is hoped that decisions can be made by the end of March and suggestions can be presented at the monthly school board meetings.
By Bill Fierke
For the Independent