the north face Helens budgeters wrestle with staff cuts
Current and former staff members at St. Helens public schools, including a counselor who said she will be laid off if proposed budget cuts go into effect, lobbied the St. Helens School District budget committee to spare several positions from the chopping block at a public meeting Tuesday, May 5.
The budget committee is weighing a recommendation from Superintendent Mark Davalos that would solve a projected deficit of almost $600,000 largely through staff cuts. Davalos said he crafted the budget proposal following goals set by the school board, avoiding furlough days and reductions that would increase class sizes.
kind of shocked me as I found that we are cutting our elementary [physical education] specialist, Miller said. I really feel that our district is going backward after making such progress in that area.
Shelly Sanford, a media assistant at St. Helens Middle School, expressed concern that her school will not be able to absorb proposed cuts to support and teaching positions.
have such already devastating cuts to our school, she said. just going to ask you to really, really consider the cuts that are being proposed at the middle school. I think they will be decimating.
Kimberly Ross, a counselor at St. Helens High School, struggled to hold back tears as she told the committee she will lose her job if counseling positions are cut at St. Helens Middle, because she has less seniority than her most recently hired middle school counterpart. She said middle schoolers need counseling support.
to working as a counselor, I worked as a corrections officer, I guess, in a juvenile jail, she said. had kids say that I had counselors in middle school and high school that treated me like a person, I probably wouldn have ended up in jail.
The idea of eliminating the positions especially for elementary PE and middle school counseling clearly gave many committee members heartburn.
Committee Chairwoman Kellie Smith and Amanda Normine said they would rather see days trimmed from the school calendar than risk losing PE for elementary students.
Smith said her son has been in the sixth grade, with one of the few things he enjoys about school being PE.
be the first one I pull and home school. I do it in a second, she said. rather look at days.
Other committee members suggested they would rather see cuts to other areas, with Trinity Monahan saying he would prefer to cut technology than lose elementary PE.
concern is that if we cutting some of these tertiary programs that maybe aren academically necessary, as far as the core curriculum goes, we going to lose these kids attentions, said Monahan, who has two first graders.
Davalos, who is leaving the school district at the end of June, defended the choices his administration made in preparing the draft budget. He said the district has no good options for next year, as it must make cuts to keep the budget balanced while maintaining a sufficient ending fund balance.
wish we were adding, you know, instead of making any cuts and reductions, he said. we only have so many dollars . and we have to use those dollars in the best possible way.
Enrollment throughout the district has been in decline for the past several years, Davalos noted.
School board member Bill Amos said the school district is dealing with an aging population.
you look at Columbia City, Columbia City 20 years ago was full of young families and lots of kids, and that was the kind of community that it was, Amos said. as I look around and I see neighbors that have been there 25 years, 30 years . young kids aren moving back in.
Under the draft budget, the school district will dip into its budget reserves to cover a widening gap between projected expenses and revenue, Davalos said. But even after doing so, he said, he had nearly $600,000 to trim, which is where the proposed staff cuts come in.
The budget committee can make changes to Davalos budget proposal, and it may opt to do so before sending its recommendation to the school board whose five members sit on the budget committee for final adoption.
However, Davalos cautioned, if it wants to restore cuts he has proposed, it will need to find the money somewhere to cover them.
you want other things back, tell us where to cut, then, to pay for them, he said.
The committee will meet again on Tuesday, May 19. Its meetings are being held this year in the Columbia City School gymnasium.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated Shelly Sanford’s job title. She is a media assistant. A previous version also mischaracterized Trinity Monahan’s stance on cutting staff. He would cut technology and software, not a technology specialist position. The story has been corrected.