Though not wanting to paint a total picture of doom and gloom, Wallowa County Education Service District superintendent Ed Jensen did not paint a pretty picture of the Oregon schools' financial picture when he addressed the ESD board Monday evening. Unless additional funding sources can be found, said Jensen, schools will be facing an additional $309 reduction per average daily membership weighted (ADMW) above and beyond the cuts already being made.
"School districts will be forced to take some truly drastic measures by the end of the year," said Jensen. He said that some ESDs are looking to provide services on a set number of days.
The additional cuts could cost Joseph and Wallowa another $140,000 in lost revenue and Enterprise another $190,000 to $200,000.
He added that by law school districts cannot spend money in the negative. "If there is no money in the bank, you can't write the check." He suggested that some school districts could proceed until they run out of money, then close down.
Possible means of raising money would be a statewide tax or the passage of Measure 19 on Tuesday's special election. Jensen personally does not favor Measure 19, looking at it as a band aid fix. "I have a real problem of borrowing money from the future," he told the board. Jensen did not know how the money from Measure 19 would be distributed if passed, but did not think it would be nearly enough to offset the latest cut in revenue.
Jensen voiced his opinion that the local ESD has enough money to fulfill its commitments for the newly started school year. The possibility of making cuts could come next year, he said.
Jensen doubted that Oregon voters, in a recession, would vote to tax themselves.
On a positive note Jensen told the board that he has been unofficially notified that the county has qualified for a $71,171.24 technology grant to put in place a wireless connection between the ESD and the three major school districts in the county; Enterprise, Joseph and Wallowa. With official confirmation expected Sept. 19, Jensen received the board's authority to act upon the grant once official notice is given. He hopes to begin the bidding process to install the hardware, software and other equipment this fall.
Jensen said the schools will receive a $100,000 communication system by investing some $7,000 apiece as matching moneys. He figures the school districts will each save $600 per month from existing costs and pay for the investment in short order. One advantage would be that one calculus class could be held at all three schools simultaneously through V-tel.
The ESD's speech-language pathologist Birgit Suess gave a power point presentation on her new duties in the county's school districts. Though the numbers fluctuate, Suess said that she currently has 105 students in her programs, mostly from the elementary age group.
"The earlier we catch them, the better help we can give," Suess said. "If they are not motivated to change and learn it is hard to help them."
Suess spends the bulk of her time on paperwork, meetings and giving tests. She has two assistants who work with her in the county schools.
As the new lessee-purchaser of half of the Wallowa Valley Mall, the board voted to open a fund to handle maintenance costs. Jensen said that the Wallowa Valley Health Care District board which owns the other half of the building is willing to have the ESD manage the building. No existing businesses will be asked to leave, but each will be asked to sign a simple lease.
Sharon Spriggs-Flanders tendered her resignation as an advisor to the ESD board, explaining that she has too many different commitments at this time.
The board agreed to put together a study about the possible consolidation of the Joseph and Enterprise schools.