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Medford school district to cut spending

In an effort to rebuild its diminished contingency fund for next school year, the Medford School District plans to put a temporary moratorium on expenditures that range from substitute teachers to computers.

Without the spending cuts, the district's nest egg for responding to financial emergencies and unforeseen expenses is expected to decline from &

36;5.5 million in 2004-05 to &

36;1.5 million by July 1.

District officials said they have not yet identified specific items to be cut nor set a goal for the amount of savings they expect to achieve.

At this point I don't see anything affecting the classroom other than teachers will make fewer photocopies, we won't have the rooms heated when people aren't occupying them and they will turn out lights when they leave a room, said Todd Bloomquist, curriculum director. We've implemented a magnifying-glass approach: anything that doesn't have to be done won't be done.

For example, the district plans to freeze spending on technology unless it involves repairing or maintaining computer servers, fire-suppression systems and alert systems, Bloomquist said.

— Another strategy will be to forego hiring substitutes when a classified employee, building administrator or teacher with free periods is available to fill in. Many vacancies will be filled with temporary employees, and if the position is

unrelated to the classroom or campus security, it may not be filled at all, said Dan Zaklan, human resources director.

Staff development could be trimmed as well, although the teacher mentor program will remain intact, said Julie York, student services director.

The measures are a response to a Dec. 6 budget report by the district's business department indicating that funding would fall by more than &

36;1 million next school year from declining enrollment.

State funding for schools is based on the previous year's enrollment on the 10th day after classes begin in the fall.

Property tax revenue from individual districts goes into a large state pot of sorts and is divvied out according to enrollment. State funding now stands at less than &

36;5,200 per pupil.

The district's enrollment of more than 12,500 has already declined by more than 200 students since October.

The projected contingency fund of &

36;1.5 million accounts for 1.7 percent of the district's &

36;85 million budget. Last school year ended with a contingency fund of 6.7 percent.

The contingency fund is like your savings account, said Tom Gaulke, business manager. When you start the year and end the year, you'd like to have the same amount.

Let's say your boiler went out, and you need to replace it immediately. You are going to have to go to your contingency fund, or you are going to have to make some hard choices.

The Oregon School Boards Association recommends school districts keep a contingency fund of at least — to 5 percent of its overall budget.

We do suggest individual districts need to evaluate their current circumstances and needs, said Angie Peterman, director of administrative support services for the school board association. There may be a very good reason to carry something higher than — to 5 percent.

Factors that warrant a higher contingency fund include a lack of cash flow, fluctuations in revenue and the potential need for emergency staffing, material or equipment replacements and maintenance of aging buildings, she said.

This is the second time this school year district officials have clamped down on spending.

In September, the district reduced the allocation for school materials and supplies by 20 percent. That saved about &

36;288,000, Gaulke said.

So far, the cuts' impact has been minimal on every day classroom activities, said Paul Cataldo, principal of Hedrick Middle School. The school has had to downsize some of its projects in art, sewing and woodworking classes that involve expensive materials.

For example, woodworking students made carbon dioxide-propelled cars last school year, Cataldo said. This year, the students have been limited to more traditional woodworking projects, such as bookshelves and boxes, he said.

It's hard to quantify the impact because we are only halfway through the school year, he said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail Medford school district to cut spending"pachen@mailtribune.com.