A $2.7 million budget gap means 24 fewer teachers next year as labor costs go up, enrollment dips

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Educators protest outside the Reynolds School District budget committee meeting on Thursday, May 3. They object to laying off teachers and aides as a way to fill the budget hole. The Reynolds School District, facing a $2.7 million shortfall in the next school year, will plug part of that hole by cutting 24 staff positions, according to the superintendent's budget proposal.

The spending plan — unveiled Thursday evening, May 3 — shows an improvement from a few weeks earlier when the district projected a $4.3 million shortfall and raised the possibility of cutting 38 staff positions for the 2018-19 school year.

Reynolds budget woes can be traced to rising labor costs, especially the district's contribution to state pension costs, plus declining enrollment, which reduces the amount the district gets from the state. State allocations are not keeping pace with district costs.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - The proposed Reynolds budget calls for eliminating 24 teaching positions in the next school year. Those attending Reynolds budget committee meeting on May 3 at Reynolds High School had to pass through a gauntlet of educators wearing red T-shirts, holding signs and chanting. The teachers fear the ballooning class sizes that will likely result from the cuts.

Teachers and support staff shouted, "Hey, School Board are you listening now? If you have to cut the budget, ask the teachers how," among other slogans.

Several educators testified at the hearing.

A tearful Tara Gilson, a parent and media assistant at Glenfair Elementary School, said the continuing cuts at Reynolds "are not serving our kids well."

Krystal Breece, an educational assistant at H.B. Lee Middle School, said "this district is failing all of our kids."

Superintendent Linda Florence admitted in her message that the proposed 2018-19 budget "lacks the resources to continue some important initiatives due to challenges with state funding for education."

The reduction in the deficit from $4.3 million to $2.7 million was possible because Reynolds was able to bolster income through two transportation-related streams of income and updated estimates of revenues. The district's total budget is about $222.5 million.

Florence's budget message called for cutting 10 elementary positions, 10 middle school positions and four high school educators. One administrator will become a grant-funded position.

The district does not plan to cut school days, as it has in the past. The Superintendent's proposal also allows for the district to complete its purchase of a reading program for elementary students and the first part of a science curriculum for the district.

Like at other districts in Oregon, the district's contribution for employee retirements increased, accounting for a big chunk of the shortfall.

Florence said the district will try to avoid lay-offs. "Vacancies created through retirements or resignations will be used wherever possible," she said, and other educators will be put on the substitute list.

Part of the decline in revenue at Reynolds stems from the shrinking number of students. Enrollment in the Reynolds district has declined about 830 students from the 2014-15 school year to the current 9,949 students. Schools are funded by the state based on the number of students, so a decline cuts a district's revenues.

This will be the third consecutive year the district has had to cut days, programs and positions. Last year Reynolds shortened the school year by five days, among other cuts.

It is important to note, the $125 million bond passed by Reynolds district voters in 2015 cannot be used for teacher or staff salaries or other school operating expenses, but can only be used for building and plant improvements.

Many school districts continue to face tough budgets. Nearby Centennial School District is staring down a $1.2 million shortfall and has proposed cutting as many as four school days, among other adjustments.

Reynolds will hold two more budget meetings open to the public in the Reynolds High School multipurpose room, 1698 S.W. Cherry Park Road. The next one is 6 p.m. Thursday, May 10 and the third, if necessary, will be Thursday, May 17.

The school board ultimately decides the budget. The budget is scheduled to be adopted by the board on June 13.

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