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Panel recommends $210M school budget for 2016-17

The 2016-17 school year looks to be about status quo in terms of the Hillsboro School District’s budget, and according to HSD Chief Financial Officer Adam Stewart, “I feel like that’s pretty good news.”

The district’s budget committee May 5 unanimously recommended a $210 million general fund budget for school board consideration, an increase over the current year of $3.32 million, or 1.6 percent. The budget includes a 5 percent increase in cost of salaries districtwide and a 5.4 percent increase in cost of benefits. There’s a 7.4 percent increase in spending on direct classroom instruction, from $113.5 million to $121.5 million.

The budget also includes 14.5 fewer full-time equivalent (FTE)teachers across the district, adjusted due to an unexpected decrease in districtwide enrollment this year. No teachers will be laid off, according to Superintendent Mike Scott. Instead, the reduction will be achieved through retirements.

Additional changes include reducing district-level (administrative) department budgets by 2 percent and adding two full-time equivalent janitorial positions at the elementary school level. It also continues the $2.4 million “reinvestment” made this year in athletics, activities, TAG and advanced option programs, elementary music and physical education and classified staff hours.

Budget committee members had a lengthy discussion on a proposal brought by member Monte Akers to increase extracurricular activities and athletics budgets by an additional $200,000 and to reduce pay-to-play fees (at a cost of $140,000) to help accommodate students who don’t qualify for fee waivers, but whose families may not be able to afford the fees.

“It has become an income equity issue that we cannot continue to ignore,” Akers said of fees charged by the district to cover participation in sports and other extracurricular activities. Akers believes a number of students, whose families live just above the poverty line, are being excluded from activities due to inability to pay.

“This is beyond the scope of the budget committee. It needs more analysis,” said budget committee member Martin Granum.

Most committee members echoed Granum’s sentiment. “If we want to get to a point where we’re not paying fees, we need to have a systematic approach,” said committee member Kim Strelchun. “And how does that affect competing interests?” she asked, referring to a community preference to reducing class sizes.

“It’s the number one priority of the entire community,” said committee member Lisa Allen. I don’t think it’s prudent to spend that money in any other way.”

Akers’ proposal was narrowly rejected, but the school board members — who are also members of the budget committee — agreed to examine pay-to-play fees and look at ways to eliminate them over a period of time. The proposed 2016-17 budget now goes to the school board for consideration and approval at its meeting on June 14.