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D21 budget allows for more staffers, books

An 11.66 percent increase in general fund revenues means North Wasco County School District will be able to restore several jobs and “do more with more for the first time in a long time,” said District Superintendent Candy Armstrong.

That was part of her budget message May 6 at the first district budget committee meeting.

Total expected general fund revenue for the upcoming fiscal year is listed at $30. 9 million in the proposed budget compared to the previous year’s $27.7 million.

The additional $3.2 million dollars will go toward funding anticipated health insurance cost increases while also leaving the district room to add about 14 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to its budget, transfer about $280,000 to the textbook replacement fund and aid the transition from the OAKS testing system to Smarter Balance.

“This is our first opportunity to be aligned with up-to-date language arts and reading curriculum,” Armstrong said. “We’re moving to a new assessment system next year that’s widely different from what we’re used to, and it’s going to take a tremendous amount of effort to get teachers ready to deliver the quality instruction students will need to succeed. So, just know that this is a ship that’s moving forward with a lot of moving parts in place.”

“It’s the first time in many years that we’re coming to this group and not saying what we’re not going to do or what we’re going to have to do less of to get by,” District Chief Financial Officer Randy Anderson told Budget Committee members. “And it certainly beats the floor quickly dropping out on us like it did in 2008.”

Part of the additional funding, Anderson said, comes from debt revenue that will now be used to “smooth out” the district’s overall balance.

“The state school fund has increased from one biennium to the next,” he said in a follow up interview, “and while most all of that increase was spent last year in PERS costs, we now have about $1.5 million more in funding than we got last year.”

When asked by Budget Committee Chairman Molly Rogers about the process he and other district officials used to determine what FTEs would be added and where, Anderson said the changes “certainly were not done in a vacuum.”

“This is the first time in a number of years that we’ve had to spend much time on how many staff we were going to add and where at all,” he said, “So for this year when we were in a position to add personnel, we started that conversation about 30 to 60 days before I distributed the budget to principals (and administrators). During that time, we asked, ‘If you had an extra person on staff who could be employed however you wanted, what would that person do and what would be the best outcome?’”

“Over the last year, we’ve seen particular growth in elementary school enrollment,” he said. “As the board is aware, we had to react to 60 new kindergarten students that showed up last fall, and now we’re moving to add all-day K to Colonel Wright, the cost for which is also included in this year’s budget.”

This year, Anderson said, Dry Hollow will see about 100 new kindergartners, making the need for extra space provided by the incoming modulars just that much more necessary.

The four modular buildings previously approved by the school board to accommodate all-day kindergarten will be purchased in July. In addition, some of the district’s FTE will go toward providing the extra custodial staff needed for the additional classroom spaces these create.

Other staffing alterations to take place include designating 3.94 FTE to run the Wahtonka Community School, adding a part-time reading specialist at Colonel Wright in response to a state grant focused on enhancing reading as well as placing another third grade teacher at Dry Hollow to curb the growing class sizes.

According to the new budget plan, Chenowith Elementary will also get an additional first grade teacher and music will be restored to its original full-time schedule.

Last year, a grant Chenowith received as a result of its Priority School status allowed the district to add an extra fifth grade teacher, bringing the grade’s average class size down significantly. However, this year Armstrong says that money will instead be spent on what she called a new “instructional coach.”

“After shifting their strategies with technical assistance from the sate,” Armstrong said, “they believe it will create a much bigger impact to have an extra instructional coach in the classroom rather than another fifth grade class. Classes will go back to a size comparable to that which other schools see in the district and the change will not result in a blended classroom.”

Armstrong said the district is also considering a variety of potential changes and improvements to be made to its special education services, but that the discussion is only “in its very beginning stages.”

The Budget Committee approved the district’s proposed budget at the May 12 committee meeting.

The budget must be approved by the school board before June 30.

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