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Number crunching: SFSD talks layoffs, school closures, schedule changes

By Stephen Floyd

The Silver Falls School District (SFSD) has started mapping out options to cut $8.8 million from next year’s budget, including layoffs in all departments and temporary school closures.

During a special meeting May 8 of the SFSD Board, Interim Superintendent Joe Morelock presented options based on feedback from principals, employees and community members.

Proposed reductions

These included staffing reductions such as 12.5% of teachers, 15% of classified staff, and 21% of district office staff. Also proposed were the temporary closures of Pratum and Evergreen schools, and implementation of period schedules instead of block schedules at Silverton High School.

Morelock said the budget reductions from these options would total around $7 million, and the district would keep exploring options for the remaining $1.8 million in cuts. He said the board can expect a complete list of budget cuts by May 17, which would allow for Budget Committee approval prior to final board approval of the budget by June 30.

Morelock added that none of these cuts would need to be permanent, and the district could restore eliminated positions and re-open schools after there is no longer a need to tighten the budget.

“You will grow back,” said Morelock. “I know it’s hard to see that right now. When you prune a tree back you do see it grow back and it does bloom again.”

The district is working to correct a years-long pattern of deficit spending that has resulted in a projected $4 million budget overrun and $1.3 million cash shortfall for the current school year.

Actions so far 

To tighten up this year’s budget, the board has approved furlough days for all staff including cutting back the last week of school, which generated an estimated $1.2 million in savings. They also applied for a $3.8 million bridge loan, borrowing against next year’s property tax revenue.

To prevent further deficits and restore depleted cash reserves, the board was advised April 8 by the Oregon Association of School Business Officials to cut the 2024-2025 budget by $8.8 million. This represents a 12% overall reduction in spending compared to the current school year’s budget, according to Morelock.

The cuts proposed to the board May 8 reflected discussions Morelock had with principals and union representatives, as well as the results of a recent community survey on budget priorities. Based on feedback from these groups, Morelock said the district will strive to maintain career and technical education programs and manageable class sizes as they identify possible cuts.

Layoffs and how to avoid them 

In his presentation, Morelock said the district could save roughly $6.44 million by cutting 29 full-time teaching positions, 41 full-time classified positions and 21% of district office staff. He said these savings would likely be offset by additional payments for unemployment claims by laid-off staff, which could amount to as much as $1.8 million in added expenses.

One option to reduce layoffs and maintain savings was to eliminate block schedules at Silverton High School, which would see seven periods per day rather than classes alternating by day. Morelock said a period schedule would allow classrooms to be used more efficiently, keeping class sizes manageable and reducing the need for teacher layoffs by between 18% and 20%.

Teacher layoffs could also be reduced at Silverton Middle School by moving from a six-period day to a seven-period day, said Morelock.

He said one challenge in reducing staff is that there are a number of different types of positions at different schools, and some are connected to revenue such as federal grant funding. He said he would be meeting with principals to go over their staffing rolls and identify specific positions that could be cut or programs that could be reorganized to be more efficient.

The small school numbers 

The district also examined the costs associated with operating smaller K-8 schools such as Pratum and Evergreen. Combined these schools expend roughly $87,000 on administrators, $180,000 on classified staff, $600,000 on teachers and $70,000 on maintenance and utilities.

If use of these facilities was suspended next school year, Morelock said savings would amount to roughly $919,000. He said they would still need to spend $18,000 on maintenance and utilities while the buildings were unused.

Other potential cuts included reducing and consolidating school bus routes, which could save $322,000. The district also plans to renegotiate its food services contract with Sodexo, which is expected to cost the general fund $600,000 this year.

Morelock said the district is also examining the reorganization of the K-8 schools to consolidate students in the same grades and reduce blended classes. Morelock said this could reduce the overall number of classes, but posed challenges related to transporting students to further-away schools and finding the right combination of schools for this new structure.

No support for further furloughs 

One option that did not receive support was for additional furlough days next school year. Board Vice Chair Aaron Koch said targeted furloughs could be a potential spending reduction tool, with the district spending an estimated $179,000 per school day on staffing.

Board Member Josh Ort said he was concerned staff may feel the need to quit if they take further pay hits from furloughs. Morelock clarified furloughs would need to be negotiated with employee unions and the reductions he proposed were options the district could act on unilaterally.

The board also discussed possibly selling district assets to restore depleted reserves, though any such sales would likely not occur in time to impact the ’24-’25 budget, said Morelock. He said the district has identified four possible properties to sell, and that night the board approved moving forward with selling 13 undeveloped acres located behind Robert Frost School.

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