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Since the 2017-18 school year, district has lost 15% of it students or roughly 840 kids

PMG FILE PHOTO - On May 31, the Newberg School District budget committee unanimously approved the school district's 2022-23 budget of $257 million, as proposed.

With a 15% decline in enrollment over the past four years and rising labor costs, more Newberg School District staff may be on the chopping block.

On May 31, the budget committee unanimously approved the school district's 2022-23 budget of $257 million, as proposed. While this is close to a $4.3 million increase overall, the school district's general fund, which covers most of the staffing and other education costs, has decreased from $61 million to $60 million as labor costs continue to increase. District officials say it has enough to stave off major staffing cuts, but some positions may need to be eliminated.

The budget cuts are due largely to a decline in enrollment, which impacts the funds the district gets from the state. State school funding makes up the general fund's largest revenue. The state allots school districts $12,450 for every student enrolled. Since the 2017-18 school year, the school district has lost 15% of its students, or roughly 840 kids.

District leaders say they're preparing for staffing shakeups.

"One goal of this budget process has been to match our staffing appropriately with our reduced enrollment," said Gregg Koskela, district communications coordinator, in an email to families. "Unfortunately, this is resulting in several staff members experiencing a reduction in force (RIF), as well as the involuntary transfer of other staff members."

Nikki Fowler, the district's director of finances and human resources, estimated that to stay on budget, 30 staff members will have to be let go. However, due to many recent resignations and retirements, the school district may only have to cut a few positions.

"Ultimately, we don't expect to do that," Fowler said. "Right now, there may be a couple, but it appears that we should be able to manage most of the changes with the attrition."

In case there are position cuts, the school district's "hope is to be able to recall some of the staff members if there are future resignations that fit the certification of the staff member who experience a RIF," Koskela said.

A recent Portland State University study determined that enrollment will continue to decline in the school district for several more years. The pandemic lockdown quickened that decline, resulting in a one-year drop of around 400 students.

Why students are leaving the school district is currently unknown.

"We don't often know where they go," Fowler said. "Some people will report that there's a new employer, some people report it's due to housing costs, some people don't say anything, we just get a records request, so we're not exactly sure (why enrollment is declining)."

But it's not just a Newberg problem.

"Statewide, declining enrollment is an issue across the board," she said.

The school district has yet to settle on a solution to the enrollment drop.

"We have not identified a plan to do that, if there is a way," Fowler said, adding that the school district is strengthening its online options, however.

In addition to cutting staff positions, the school district is moving its larger purchases, like the curriculum adoption, from the general fund to grant funding to save money. The school district had to do that last year as well. The school district also will have to dip into its ending fund balance from last year.

"While we have a substantial EFB for the end of 2021-22 school year, we will be using a significant portion of those dollars, in combination with ESSER federal funding in order to bridge the gap between the lower enrollment and the moderated slimming of the district costs over the next few years," Fowler said in the 2022-23 budget packet.

School board members, who also are part of the budget committee, met Tuesday to formally adopt the 2022-23 budget (results were unavailable at press time).

In this meeting, school board members also were expected to debate making changes to the budget, such as bringing back athletic participation fees, which were covered last year via ESSER funds, and adding an assistant superintendent position.

Taxing rate will increase

The approval of the school budget will mean a significant increase in the taxing rate for property owners in the district. The rate will jump from $5.13 to $6.20 per $1,000 of assessed value. For the owner of a home or business with an assessed value of $300,000 that means an increase from $1,539 to $1,860 in property taxes.

The increase, according to the budget document presented to the board, "includes property taxes levied for debt service on general obligation bonds." Voters approved a $141 million bond in 2020 to pay for construction of a new Dundee Elementary School and upgrades to numerous sites throughout the district.

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