David Douglas Schools forced to cut staff, to balance budget

What message did those who packed the DDS Board Room hear, as Superintendent Grotting spoke frankly about proposed budget cuts? You may be surprised at how few folks chose to give testimony at this important meeting …

The hallway outside the David Douglas Schools’ Board Room, as they await the doors to open and the meeting to begin.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While they’ve put off making cuts for several years, and instead drew down their reserves, the David Douglas School District (DDSD) is now facing staff reductions, as costs and enrollment increase – and State funding decreases.

DDSD Superintendent Don Grotting hasn’t shied away from talking about the impending reductions. And, at the February School Board meeting, he laid out the District’s detailed proposal for balancing their budget.

> To read Superintendent Grotting’s in-depth conversation about the district’s finances in our December article, CLICK HERE.

Before the meeting began, Superintendent Grotting mentioned to East Portland News, “In this meeting, we will go over proposed budget reductions for the next school year.”

Because he hasn’t avoided speaking candidly about the situation throughout the community, we asked if his intent was to have an open and transparent process.

“I hope so,” Grotting responded. “We know we’re going to have a reduction in our workforce. It’s only right to give those people who are directly impacted, as much notice as possible, so that they can start planning their future – if, in fact, they are [involved in] one of those programs, and/or [are] one of those people being reduced.”

The DDSD Board Room is packed, standing-room-only, as their February meeting gets underway.

Each of the school board members spoke about issues of importance to them.

When it came time for board member Frieda Christopher to speak, she didn’t mince words. “I’m very concerned about the high number of tax-abated properties within our district.”

Christopher also spoke out against the possibility of “statewide collective-bargaining. It seems like they need to have a better understanding of the needs of education.”

DDSD Superintendent Don Grotting speaks frankly about the district’s budget dilemma.

Superintendent scolds State legislature
“We do not take lightly these reductions,” Grotting began his formal remarks. “David Douglas, along with every school in the State, is going through severely difficult times right now, as we try to find sustainable funding our for children’s education.

“To be honest with you, the legislature of the State of Oregon is not doing a very good job at capturing that concept,” Grotting added.

Turning to the issue at hand, he continued, “I know that these reductions impact our employees, our children, and the families of our employees. For that I apologize. But, we are making a proposal for reductions in the best interest of our children. Depending on what side of the fence you are on, you may be in opposition to this. There are no good choices – none of these choices are good choices.”

The Superintendent said that the proposed cuts will eliminate about 90 positions across the district. “All of these reductions negatively impact the educational environment of the David Douglas School District.”

The attendees listen intently as Grotting tells why, and how, they must balance their budget.

Budget specifics
Oregon’s total educational allocation stands at $5.56 billion for K-12 education, Grotting explained, but that final decision will most likely not made before June.

“I am continuing to be optimistic, and to base our budget on a K-12 allocation of $5.7 billion,” stated Grotting. “An allocation below $5.7 billion would result in additional reductions.”

And, due to the School Board previously allocating $3 million from other funds for the next school year, the District will still be “deficit spending”. “This means additional reductions in 2012-13. My recommendation to the board would be to save any funding excess above the $5.7 billion funding level in order to reduce additional employee and program reductions for the second year of the biennium.”

Specific reductions include closing North Powellhurst Kindergarten Program and eliminating 27 “licensed specialist” positions. Additional class sizes are expected to increase.

> To download a PDF file that details the budget proposal from the DDSD website: CLICK HERE.

The board members listen to testimony given at their February meeting.

To the surprise of some observers, only four people testified at the meeting. Two were school librarians who didn’t rail against the budget reduction, but advocated for having their programs restored as soon as possible.

Additionally two parents of students who participate in the district’s “Pull-out Talented & Gifted Student” program advocated for its continuation.

By meeting’s end, the proposed budget reductions were approved by the district’s school board.

Next, these recommendations will go before the district’s Budget Committee in April; followed by public hearings. The budget will be adopted by June 30.

“I want to thank our community for its support of schools, and I know that by working together we can still offer our students a high-quality educational environment,” Grotting concluded.

We thank David Douglas Schools Communication Specialist Dan McCue for providing information used to prepare this report.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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