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Phoenix-Talent cuts 10 days

School board praises union members for cooperation in solving the loss of revenue

Following the example of districts across Oregon, the Phoenix-Talent school board on Thursday voted to slash 10 days from the school year to plug an estimated &

36;2 million deficit created by state revenue shortfalls.

This is a terrible thing for education, said board member Loretta Nordquist. We've whacked here and whacked there — this seems to be about the best remedy we can come up with.

It's good for no one. It does not serve the public, added board member Craig Prewitt, who went on to advocate for a sales tax to support state services such as education, police, roads and health services. It's bad now. For the next fiscal year, it's going to get worse.

The board's vote to cut school days is contingent upon a memorandum of understanding from one of the district's employee unions. Superintendent Ben Bergreen on Tuesday noted that the union chapter has given its tentative approval, and said the board's decision will most likely stand.

Before voting on the issue, Bergreen praised the district's union members for their cooperation and willingness to sacrifice salaries for the sake of students.

In our district, it was a relatively easy but painful process, he said. I appreciate all the efforts of our staff.

It's not about lost salaries. This is about the kids, said Mary Nitcher, president of the Oregon School Employees Association, local chapter No. 96. They are playing fair here. The cuts are across the board. It's from the top (administrators) to the bottom.

During Thursday's meeting, the school board agreed to cut the following days: Feb. 28; March 3, 14; April 11, 18, 25; May 2, 9, 30; and June 2. Eight of the cut days fall on Fridays, and the remaining two on Mondays.

Parents will be notified of the cuts today in a newsletter sent home with students.

The decision to slash school days is expected to save the district nearly &

36;700,000. Phoenix-Talent has an &

36;18 million general operating budget. Bergreen said the district is facing an estimated &

36;2 million deficit, and administrators plan to plug the remaining &

36;1.3 million hole through belt-tightening and cash carried over from 2001-02.

In Jackson County, Rogue River, Eagle Point and Medford school boards have voted to slash 10 days. However, Eagle Point and Medford's cuts are still contingent upon the approval of local union chapters. The Ashland district voted to slash eight days, and Central Point has shaved five days.

In Oregon, nearly 100 of the state's 198 districts have voted to cut days in order to plug gaping budget holes following Measure 28's failure, according to a spokesman from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).

A recent survey conducted by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators found that to date, a total of 367.5 school days will be slashed across the board. The range of days on the cutting block is from 24 in the Portland district to two in the Tigard-Tualatin district. Roughly 88 percent of the cut days fall on instructional days rather than in-service days, when students do not attend class but district employees still work.

It was unclear Thursday night if the cuts would place the Phoenix-Talent schools below the state's minimum requirements for classroom hours. The state is granting waivers to schools that fall below the minimum requirements because of the unprecedented nature of the situation, officials from the ODE have said.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail