Forty-three parents, teachers, school board members, teachers' aides and budget committee members turned out Monday night to discuss potential future budget cuts for the Wallowa school district. Facing what is anticipated to be a $200,000 cut for school year 2004-2005, the Wallowa school board and superintendent John Nesemann wanted to get a feel from the public as to where cuts should be made.
Five round tables were set up in the high school gymnasium with school board and budget committee members staying at their respective tables and others rotating from table to table as the 1 1/2 hour discussion proceeded.
A five-page, 20-question survey was also circulated for participants to take home, fill out and return to the school. Nesemann and the school board anticipate tallying the survey, revisiting notes taken during the evening, then having a better idea what cuts district patrons would prefer when state funding figures are made known in the next few weeks.
One constant heard at each table was that there should be no cuts in the K-3 grade level. School board member Keith Bird said, "If a student cannot read at grade level when he or she leaves the first grade they almost never catch up." Repeated over and over was the importance of reading programs to the school.
Parents Laura Spear and Julie Chrisman pleaded their case that grade levels should not be combined in the elementary, especially the lower elementary. "No one likes to see split classes," said budget committee member Gary Willett. "What we are trying to find is priority areas when we have to make cuts."
School aide Audra Burns contended that savings could come from a myriad of ways, espousing the argument "that every little bit counts." She suggested that community volunteers be found to relieve teachers from doing recess duty. She also suggested that participants in sporting events be responsible for providing their own transportation for up to a 50-mile radius. Another patron suggested that sports students provide their own way up to a 100-mile radius.
One parent who did not wish to be named suggested that the three superintendents at county schools be merged into one position, with principals left to run the schools. Another suggested that sports be eliminated and the schools go back to focusing on the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.
The difficulty in reducing a $2.4 million budget (2002-03 figures) by $200,000 is that 80 percent of the total is wrapped into salaries and benefits, and contract negotiations will not be revisited for another year.
"We want to find the cuts which have the least negative impacts on kids," said Bird.