With 104 fewer students than expected, district scrambles to cut $1.53 million from budget

Considering the Newberg School District's total enrollment has not only been steady, hovering just below 5,200 over the past decade, but also quite predictable, administrators were understandably caught off guard when figures showed 104 fewer students showed up for the first week of classes than had been projected. PMG FILE PHOTO - Adminstrators for the Newberg School District were taken off guard when more than 100 students dropped out of the district before school opened last week.

Because state funding is tied directly to enrollment, district officials had to scramble last week to cut an estimated $1.6 million from the 2017-2018 budget.

As of Monday, the district reported that it has managed to trim $1.53 million through a variety of measures, but that just 15 percent of those cuts (approximately $258,000) were made in the classroom, meaning it had to reduce its teaching staff by just under four full-time positions (3.78 FTE).

"We tried to keep looking at it differently until we could be absolutely confident we did the best job we could keeping it away from classrooms," Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza said. "While we couldn't accomplish 100 percent, we got it as close as we felt we could possibly get it."

The district first notified parents via email on Sept. 11, distributing a message from LeBlanc-Esparza that noted it had been more than a decade since enrollment had fallen significantly short of projections.

According to the release, district secretaries reached out to families, which had confirmed their expected enrollment for the 2017-2018 school in March, to find out why they hadn't returned and "learned that many families have moved out of our area due to the cost of living and specifically the cost and/or availability in our communities."

While that evidence was anecdotal, the district did research which specific schools had been most affected and found it corresponded to buildings with higher proportions of economically disadvantaged students, most notably Edwards Elementary and Mountain View Middle schools.

According to District Communications Coordinator Autumn Foster, district officials, administrators and union officials worked together to make the cuts, which included $397,530 in non-staff reductions.

"That looks like professional development funds and other stipends, just things we're going to do without this year," Foster said.

Most of the savings were achieved by cutting district-level positions, including two administrative positions, one non-licensed district position and five instructional facilitators (out of 11.4 FTE). Two unfilled district positions will also not be filled and one contract was shortened from 12 to nine months.

Because the district's collectively bargained contracts ensures employment based on seniority, many educators who held district-level positions were moved into classroom roles to replace first-year teachers.

The most visible reductions that will impact classrooms include dissolving the half-day kindergarten class at Joan Austin, which included some students who were bused daily but will now be absorbed into the full-day classrooms at their neighborhood schools. Parents of those children will have the option of having them dismissed mid-way through the day.

One grade level at a district elementary school featured four classrooms of 17 students each, but those have consolidated into three classes, bumping the average to just under 23 students, to eliminate one teaching position.

The district sent a second message to all parents on Friday explaining some of the changes, but has been in direct communications with families that will experience classroom changes.

According to Foster, the district also delayed implementing the changes until this week so that staff whose positions were eliminated would still get paid for the month and be eligible for health insurance.

"Our district leadership team has been in contact with other districts that have available positions and we know for a fact that some of our educators have already interviewed in other districts," Foster said. "We're doing everything we can to support them."

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