Reynolds educators offer alternatives to cutting teaching positions
Teachers in the Reynolds School District came out in force for another meeting of the district's budget committee Thursday night and suggested ways to save money next year without cutting teaching positions as proposed.
The Reynolds district is facing a $2.7 million shortfall in the next school year and the superintendent's budget proposes to close part of that gap by cutting 24 teaching positions. With retirements and teachers leaving for other reasons, lay-offs are unlikely. But fewer teachers mean larger class sizes.
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.
"Cutting teachers is not the right choice," said Emily Bundy, a band teacher at several Reynolds schools, noting the irony that the budget hearing was being held during teacher appreciation week.
Lisa Alibabaie, a member of the community, suggested at the May 10 meeting, the district not buy new science materials as planned and instead use the funds to keep teachers in the classroom.
Likewise, Gene Trowbridge, a first-grade teacher at Hartely Elementary School suggested keeping staff rather than buying reading books, as is also planned expenditure in the budget proposal.
Evan Selby, who teaches at Reynolds High School, said the proposed budget lacks "meaningful cuts at the central office at all."
He suggested the Reynolds committee "be bold," like Portland Public Schools, which he said recently eliminated 31 positions in the central office. He ticked off cuts in media relations, staff services and technology services that he said could save $903,000.
But Superintendent Linda Florence said she has no plan to propose cuts to administrative personnel.
"Over the last three years, there has been a 21 percent decrease in district office administrative positions by not filling or funding positions," Florence said. "In turn, existing administrative staff have been required to absorb the duties of those unfilled positions."
A survey of teachers found cutting district office staff is their top suggestion for closing the budget gap. They also propose drawing down the contingency fund and postponing the purchase of the reading and science materials.
Emily Crum, the president of the Reynolds teacher's union even suggested teacher's could take a couple of unpaid furlough days, but did not want the lower-paid support staff to be included in the furlough.
The budget committee is made up of the all-volunteer school board members and volunteers from the community. A third budget committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 17, in the multipurpose room at the back of Reynolds High School, 1698 S.W. Cherry Park Road.
The budget proposed by Florence calls for cutting 10 elementary positions, 10 middle school positions and four high school educators. One administrator will become a grant-funded position.
Like at other districts in Oregon, the district's contribution for employee retirements increased, accounting for a big chunk of the shortfall.
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 Reynolds district has had to cut days, programs or 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 projected a $1.2 million shortfall and proposed cutting as many as four school days, among other adjustments.