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Budget crunch hits Sisters schools

By Kandra Kent
Published On: Mar 12 2014 09:50:14 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 14 2014 01:58:31 PM CDT

A budget crunch and options to deal with it brought about 200 people to a Sisters School Board meeting Wednesday night.

SISTERS, Ore. -

The Sisters School District is in a pickle.

"If some money could fall from the sky somewhere that would be great," said Sisters School Board Chair Don Hedrick Wednesday.

The district is stuck between a rock and hard place, to the tune of more than $800,000, and school officials are scrambling to fill the budget deficit.

Wednesday night, school officials met with more than 200 members of the community who gathered at Sisters High to discuss the issue, outline possible solutions and get feedback.

"Combine with Bend La-Pine (Schools) -- that's been discussed," Hedrick said.  "Closing one of our three schools, that's been discussed."

But the most popular option on the table so far is reducing the school week to four days.

It's not popular with parents.

"Parents are going to have to find coverage for their kids that day," said Sisters parent Dave Smith. "I really think it's just going to strap everybody."

It also hits non-teacher employees who would also have the day off.

"There's a lot of uneasiness and people saying they would move if their hours were cut," said school aide Bill Anttila.

Anttila said he used to be full-time with the district until a couple years ago, when his hours were cut. Now he says his position could be eliminated completely.

Hedrick said an extra day off each week would only fill about half of the deficit.

He said asking the public for a bond measure and cutting staff are inevitable to the district's future.

"Eighty-five percent of our budget is personnel --  salaries and benefits -- and in order to save any real money, it's personnel" that has to be cut, Hedrick said.

Anttila said students and support staff with the district would be hurt the most.

"They're proposing a 20 percent cut to all classified employees, which is kind of unfair, since they are the lowest paid," Antila said.

So why is the district facing this budget crisis?

Hedrick said it's a combination of more expenses and fewer dollars.

He said there are three main contributors to the budget shortfall: enrollment decline is bringing less money in from the state, the district is receiving only half of money it expected from the state's 'Grand Bargain,' and the district recently approved increases to the teachers' long-frozen benefits.

Hedrick said the deficit is about one-tenth of the district's yearly $10 million operating budget.

Even those you think would be jumping for joy, (hint: students) aren't so sure.

"At first I was kind of excited, because I was like, 'Oh yeah, a four-day week!'" said Sisters High junior Ashley Smith. "But then I realized how many teachers they're going to have to cut, and what costs come with it."

Community members were invited to share possible solutions.

And Anttila said no position should be immune.

"Do you really need for three schools, one man making over $100,000 to supervise them?" he said. "I say no."

A frustrated community that can only wait to see where the axe falls.

The school board will take more public comments at the end of its April 9th meeting.

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