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Phoenix-Talent district weighs cut of up to 20 days facing $2.5 million deficit

Phoenix-Talent school administrators and confidential staff have consented to a cut of up to 20 days from the school calendar next year, and a salary and step-increase freeze in preparation for an estimated $2.5 million budget deficit next year.

"We didn't want to lose anyone," said Louise Petersen, executive assistant to the School Board. "We wanted to keep all our people. If it helps to reduce calendar days to save people, that is beneficial to everybody."

The School Board approved the agreement March 3, the first concrete measure toward reducing the district's $23 million budget by more than 10 percent.

The district's teachers and support staff remain in negotiations with the school district for their salaries and benefits. Those more than 250 employees also must agree to the reduction of calendar days for it to take effect.

The provision in the administrator and confidential staff contracts calls for a cut of up to 20 days. That does not mean the district will cut that many days, but just the allowance of such a measure concerns some parents. Administrators include positions such as the human resources director, business manager, superintendent, instructional services director and special education director. Confidential staff are six support staff members who deal with documents related to labor negotiations and other confidential information.

"When it comes down to chopping 20 days out of the calendar, ultimately the children are the ones getting shortchanged," said Mark McCalister, parent of a student at Phoenix High School and Talent Middle School.

McCalister said he has heard from school employees that the district also is considering some programs such as high school choir.

"That's where we are going," McCalister said. "There's a lot of foot dragging going on hoping more money will surface."

District officials, however, would not immediately confirm that such a proposal exists. Superintendent Ben Bergreen did not return a phone call seeking information Wednesday.

Business Manager Doug Spani said, "We are looking at a lot of things. ... We aren't that far down the road."

The outcome of employee negotiations is critical to the budget, as salaries and benefits account for more than 85 percent.

The district serves nearly 2,600 students.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.