After three meetings’ worth of questions, answers and deliberations, the North Wasco County School District 21 budget committee has approved the 2013-2014 budget proposed by staff.
The next step will be for the school board to adopt the budget during its June 11 meeting.
The budget, based on current estimates of state revenue, adds a first grade teacher at Dry Hollow Elementary to deal with an enrollment “bubble,” but takes away an elementary music teacher, elementary physical education teacher, a Title I position, two custodians, the Safe Schools Healthy Students program director, half of the Talented and Gifted Coordinator position and a secretarial position that will be cut as the maintenance and facilities offices combine.
During the budget committee process members expressed a desire to see more specific numbers — such as a breakdown of how the “materials” category was spent — but were told that is not the job of the school’s budget committee.
“I don’t want to see people coming in with a list saying we need to spend $2,000 less on library books. That’s not helpful,” said Superintendent Candy Armstrong during the May 21 meeting. “We take a very holistic approach to try to meet the needs of the kids.”
Armstrong and Chief Financial Officer Randy Anderson said the main job of the budget committee is to bring transparency to the budget process by asking questions, listening to public testimony and confirming that the proposed budget will further the school board’s stated goals. They said it was the job of paid staff to determine which programs and positions to fund and by how much.
Anderson noted that he had to prepare the budget for the budget committee in a way that meets legal standards, and also said that the budget numbers were estimates — if he put down that a school would spend $1,350 on office supplies and it spent exactly that, “it would be quite the trick.
“I don’t think we’re being opaque,” he said. “If you’re asking if there are a whole bunch of slips of paper someone has somewhere that adds up to the supply budget, the answer is no.”
Anderson said if budget committee members were interested in being more involved throughout the year he would be happy to email them information as some of the budget questions — like the amount of savings the district will see from PERS reform— changed from estimates to fact.
The May 16 budget meeting gave community members a chance to make public comment but was sparsely attended.
Anne Evans, principal at Chenowith Elementary, told committee members she wanted to assure them that administrators were using resources to the best of their ability to bring up student achievement.
She shared information about student growth, noting that 86 percent of fourth graders made growth in reading this year and 78 percent of fifth graders showed reading improvement.
“As you approve the budget I want you to do so with confidence and trust that the programs and allocations you are approving are effective … We are doing good things and seeing results,” Evans said.
She said that Chenowith Elementary was making positive changes without having to come to the school board and ask for more money to make them happen.
Tyler Flaumitsch, Department of Human Services director, said research shows two thirds of the population will experience at least one “adverse childhood experience” such as abuse or the incarceration of a parent.
As a result, he said, the Sanctuary Institute’s trainings on “trauma-informed care” brought in by the Safe Schools Healthy Students director are vital to the community’s wellbeing.
He said DHS, as a member of the Safe Schools Healthy Students core team, has been working to implement the Sanctuary principles in the office and as a result they have seen a “significant decrease” in animosity, infighting and sick leave.
He said he has also seen community organizations working together better than ever.
“I’m here to ask you to consider that if you do eliminate that position there is a good chance that those steps we have taken as agencies will fall apart and we will become siloed again,” he said.
Molly Rogers, director of the Juvenile Services, echoed the DHS director’s concerns that without someone to facilitate the core team meetings collaboration between the agencies will weaken.
She also said that since the beginning of the programs funded by the Safe Schools Healthy Students grant, her department has experienced a significant decrease in referrals for violence and destruction of property.
As the budget committee discussed the budget over three meetings, various numbers that committee members thought were unusual were explained.
For example, Anderson said that the dramatic increase in the utilities bill at Chenowith Elementary came because the natural gas meter at the school had been calibrated wrong for years and had only been recording one tenth of the actual usage.
He said even though it wasn’t the district’s error, Northwest Natural is still legally entitled to demand back payments and is allowing the district to pay it back without interest in increments of $2,000 a month over a little less than three years.
That, combined with the increase now that the school is paying the correct amount per month, increased the natural gas costs for the school from a total of $2,916 during 2011-2012 to a budgeted $50,000 for the coming school year.
Committee member Molly Rogers said it would be good for an administrator from each school to be on hand during all of next year’s budget meetings to explain increases in certain line items from similar unexpected occurrences.
Some school administrators were on hand to answer questions. High school Vice Principal Kurt Evans was asked to explain his job duties to committee members who had been asked by the community about why vice principals at the high school and middle school were needed.
He said he performs required classroom evaluations, meets with parents, deals with discipline issues, oversees the education efforts for juveniles at the regional jail, provides the required administrative presence during many of the evening uses of school facilities and shares the load with Principal Nick Nelson on a variety of other things.
At a later meeting Armstrong said an important function of vice principals that had been missed during the previous discussion was one of student safety.
She said as Evans and athletic director Kyle Rossell patrol the campus they have spotted issues that could have escalated into something much worse if they had not intervened or called the police.
One of those issues happened the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Armed law enforcement officers were stationed at the high school and a student came into the building in full camouflage and a gas mask.
“Luckily a police officer wasn’t the first one to confront the student,” she said. “But when I was looking at the video, guess who was there approaching the student? Kurt Evans, and Kyle Rossell was right behind him.”
Committee member Joan Silver said she frequently heard uninformed statements about the school district from community members and encouraged people (both on the budget committee and off) to come and ask questions of administrators or see for themselves what was going on in the schools.
“I’ve never found a closed door in any school or administrative office,” she said.