Scappoose schools trim staff, seek concessions

Final budget proposal dips into reserves and relies on labor talks to fill $220,000 shortfall

After meeting last week, the Scappoose School district's budget committee finalized its budget recommendation.

The committee will hold one more public hearing on the proposed budget before the board of directors meet Monday, June 6, at which time the new budget is expected to be approved.

The budget recommendation will result in a $1.28 million reduction compared to last year's budget. The reduction is the result of anticipated layoffs, teacher attrition, labor negotiation concessions and elimination of the district's student resource officer. Furlough days will also be increased.

Similar shortfalls have been weathered in the past. In the 2009-10 school year, the district faced a $1.2 million deficit, and there was an $860,000 gap in the 2010-11 school year. Those deficits were mostly offset through staffing reductions, reduced school days, the furlough program and a spending freeze that started last November.

The district plans to eliminate two physical education positions in kindergarten through eighth grade that are currently held by teachers who are retiring this year. Current elementary school teachers will add physical education to their curriculum.

In addition to attrition losses, the district will also likely lay off one elective teacher from grades seven through 12 and another teacher from kindergarten through grade six. This will result in reduced class offerings for middle school and high school students and increased class size for elementary students. The proposed reduction in staffing will likely result in a range of 21 students per class for the smallest class at the first-grade level to 30 students at the sixth-grade level.

The district also hopes to negotiate with the district's labor organizations to trim another $220,000. Scappoose School District Superintendent Paul Peterson said this could result from any number of concessions.

Tami McDonald, co-president of the Scappoose Association of Classroom Teachers, said negotiations will not begin until June 8. She said it's hard to determine an outcome at this point.

'We're already asking our certified employees to take 10 furlough days; that's a significant pay decrease,' McDonald said. 'It's a difficult situation for everybody and it's certainly a painful process to go through, because I think teachers most importantly want to teach.'

If negotiations are ineffective, there will likely be a further reduction in staff, probably three employees, to meet the budgetary constraints. If this is the case, Peterson said further cuts could come from a variety of personnel including administrative and clerical positions.

The committee is also recommending increasing the amount of furlough days to 10. At this level, students will still meet state graduation requirements for instructional time.

The district's student resource officer will also be laid off under the new plan, which would result in a savings of $50,000.

The district also plans to spend $110,000 from its contingency fund, which will bring the reserve to less than 2 percent.

'It's been many years since [the contingency fund has] been that low,' Petersen said. 'We have to have a decent reserve pattern of having strong reserves for our credit.'

Although the reduction in reserves will likely decrease the district's credit rating, no major capital improvement projects are planned in the near future.