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With district leadership estimating about 25 cuts are needed, board votes 7-0 to authorize reduction in force

The Newberg School District board of directors begrudgingly, yet unanimously, voted last week to authorize district staff to initiate a Reduction in Force (RIF) process that will likely result in staff cuts as part of the district's solution to a $4 million shortfall for the 2018-2019 budget.

"I don't like the idea of RIFing because, for one thing, it cuts off our younger talent that we need to be developing, which I think is a terrible thing," director Ron Mock said. "But I'm still going to vote for this because the best information I have from the people who know is that this is what we need to do."

The district had previously distributed a letter to parents and community members signaling that after discussions with its employee unions, including the Newberg Education Association (NEA) or licensed teachers group, it expected to cut upwards of 25 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in order to cover the final $1.3 million of the shortfall.

In the letter sent out April 20, Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza and assistant superintendent Dave Parker detailed the district's latest proposal to the NEA. On top of $2 million in cuts the district had already identified, the proposal included five furlough days and a 50 percent reduction in the teacher's 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), but would also result in a cut of 10 FTE.

The NEA did not accept the proposal but did agree to four furlough days, resulting in a savings of $700,000 that NEA president Gail Grobey said was the equivalent of giving up the entire COLA.

In an email following the release of the letter, Grobey said that while Newberg has done well to attract quality teachers, who in turn showed they are emotionally and financially invested in the district by agreeing to a shorter contract year, the district is jeopardizing that investment with "poor budgeting practices."

"Newberg students deserve district leadership that will own their mistakes, make the necessary long-term corrections to their failed budget and respect the educators that work with our students in the classroom and schools each day," Grobey wrote regarding rejecting the district's proposal.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, three parents voiced their opposition to authorizing the RIFs, with NHS parent volunteer Holly Gaunt chastising the district for its letter, saying that it placed blame on the teachers and was unnecessarily divisive.

When presenting background for the board's discussion of the potential authorization, LeBlanc-Esparza outlined the projected class sizes for 2018-2019 if it were to cut the expected 25 FTE teachers.

According to the letter, the district's proposal to the NEA would have kept class size the same at elementary schools, while raising the ratio in secondary schools by 1.0 to 27.5 students per teacher. At the meeting, she said with anticipated cuts, class size in elementary schools would also grow by one student to 26.

Considering the circumstances, that seemed to be acceptable to the board.

"We don't have high class sizes, so I don't see this is going to be a huge impact at this point and it's something that needs to be done," Van Bossuyt said. " Like Debbie (Hawblitzel), I've been through a few of these before and it's never easy."

As part of the discussion, Mock asked Parker about the extent of the cuts the district had already identified, at least in part to demonstrate to the public that they were indeed exhaustive. Parker also noted that the unions have been kept informed and taken part in the cutting process so far.

"I have no suspicion anyone in the district is trying to stick it to teachers," Mock said. "In fact, the administration has taken a bigger cut proportionally than the teachers have."

Those board members who provided explanations for their votes were adamant that the authorization to RIF wasn't pre-emptive, but a necessary and crucial part of the budget process. If the cuts made by staff were indeed maxed out and the furlough days taken by the teachers still left the district short of the $4 million in needed savings, then the district needs to be able to cut teachers when the time comes.

Although there was some discussion about the impact that resignations and retirements will have on the size of the RIF, that time was quickly approaching as the administration was set to present its budget to the budget committee at its Tuesday meeting this week.

The budget committee will review the budget and could direct staff to make adjustments before it presents a final proposal to the board in June.

Parker said that with the authorization, the district could notify personnel that is being cut by mid-May, as they will need as much time as possible to search for new positions.

"I don't like it any better than anybody else, but I think it's a necessary step in the budget building process and the sooner that the district has all of the tools available to them to be able to put together a budget that is the least impactful to the kids the better," director Todd Thomas said.

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