Wallowa school budget passed; one teacher equivalent axed

Ed Jensen

The Wallowa schools budget committee approved a budget of $2,636,748 for the 2004-2005 school year when they met in session Monday night.

The Wallowa school board can now work with the dollar numbers given them and not have to reconvene the budget committee unless they wish to go 10 percent beyond the budgeted amount, not a likelihood in these days of tight budgetary constraints.

Included in the figures submitted by administration was the reduction of one full time equivalent (FTE) teaching position at a dollar cost reduction of $72,000 for salary and benefits.

Wallowa is in better shape than many schools in the state because it is projected to have a $1.3 million cash carryover after the current school year.

Giving the budget message on an overhead projector was financial consultant Ed Jensen who noted that salaries plus benefits in the Wallowa school district only make up 69 percent of the overall general fund budget compared to a norm of around 80 percent.

Jensen shared a graph of trends affecting the Wallowa school district and they - denoting change in enrollment, change in staff, change in audited ending fund balance, change in state school funding and change in expenditures - were consistently negative for the district. The graphs went from the 2000-2001 school year, the last year the district made a profit, through 2004-2005 and projected enrollment figures to 2007-2008. The latter were down 32 percent by 2007-2008.

And the bad news did not stop there. Jensen informed the budget committee and school board that the high school building is nearly 100 years old and that the state could require that it be replaced in the near future at an estimated cost of $4 million to $5 million.

"I'm not trying to cry boogie man in the dark," said Jensen, "But that would make a tremendous tax burden on the people of this district. You have no easy choices." He went on to say that Lostine did not plan for such a contingency and ended up consolidating with Wallowa when its school building was antiquated.

Council member Ed Millar tried to better pin down the budgeted dollars to the actual expenditures of the school district after Jensen had pointed to a budgeted figure of $417,000 if all budgeted money was spent down to a zero balance in the current school year of 2003-2004. Jensen is hoping that actual expenditure of dollars will be closer to $150,000. Jensen said it is prudent to budget higher in the event of unforeseen complications, adding that the $417,000 figure could still be accurate for the current school year.

Adding the money in the ESD Direct Support Fund, Jensen noted one time ESD windfall money of $367,197.

He added on a side note that the Joseph school district was receiving $363,000 in windfall dollars and Enterprise $511,000. The windfall dollars were created when the state of Oregon decided to do away with equalization for ESDs.

Budget committee member Eva Oveson, teachers Carol Mock, Janice Bird and Marilyn Soares plus special education teacher Donna Smith pleaded with the school leaders not to make cuts at the expense at children in grades K-3, especially in reading.

"There won't be any reading to learn if they can't learn to read," said Soares.

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