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District will reduce ending fund balance to keep programming in place, fill vacancies

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - The St. Helens School District school board voted 4 to 0 Wednesday, June 26, to approve the 2019-20 budget. One board member was absent. The districts budget committee met several times before Wednesday to discuss the proposed budget before it was approved.In the upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year, the St. Helens School District plans to maintain funding for programs throughout the district by reducing its ending fund balance.

The St. Helens School District board of directors voted 4 to 0 to approve the $59.6 million budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year during a board meeting Wednesday, June 26. In addition to maintaining program funding, the district intends to rehire for recently vacated positions to keep stable current class sizes.

Board member Ryan Scholl was absent Wednesday.

The district is not planning to make any budget-related reductions in individual schools or programs, and is instead dropping its annual ending fund balance to 3%, Jessica Seay, the district's business manager, explained by email.

"This was done as a temporary measure in anticipation of the passage of the Student Success Act which we expect to receive funding for in the 20-21 school year," Seay said.

Last year, when the district also faced a shortage as expenses outpaced revenue, the district reduced the 2018-19 ending fund balance to 4% to maintain class sizes, budget documents indicate.

Comparatively, the Scappoose School District, which approved its $32.6 million budget on June 10, used reserve funds and chose to reduce staffing levels through attrition in order to balance its budget. During the budget approval process for the district earlier this month, some people expressed concern about not rehiring for certain positions.

There were no public comments during the Wednesday board meeting in St. Helens.

In the new school year, the district will also see a major shift in the middle school model. Starting in the 2019-20 school year, middle school will be composed of grades six, seven and eight. Previously, middle school was only seventh and eighth grade.

Sixth-grade teachers have been transferred and specialists will remain at the same elementary schools in the fall, Seay added. The middle school will get a slight increase in staffing for band and choir teachers, the addition of a 0.5 FTE counselor, and the addition of a career and technical education teacher in the 2019-20 budget, Seay explained.

Construction on the brand new bond-funded middle school has been underway since last spring, and middle school students are slated to start classes in the new facility in the fall.

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