The budget cuts are coming.

That message emerged from a Hermiston School District board meeting Monday night.

“This is tough, tough stuff,” said board member Karen Sherman. “This is not where any of us want to be.”

Despite the board’s palpable sadness and anger over dwindling state resources, it voted to direct Superintendent Fred Maiocco to develop a “reduction in force” plan that will cut next year’s budget by $900,000, rather than dip further into the district’s reserves.

Because the budget already is trimmed to the bone, the question now is whether to maintain class sizes and cut electives, such art and music, or keep electives and let already full classrooms grow.

Assistant Superintendent Wade Smith released the results of a community survey at the meeting. It showed parents and staff seem united in their desire to keep class sizes at a reasonable number, especially at the elementary schools.

Of the 286 people who finished the survey — 148 of which were district staff members —  60 precent disagreed with raising core academic class sizes at Hermiston High School from 32 to 40 to keep most electives available.

For middle schools, 68 percent disagreed with raising core class sizes from 29 to 37 to keep electives.

For elementary schools, 74 percent disagreed with raising class sizes — from 23 to 30 — to keep electives.

When asked to rank athletic or other after-school activities and electives, the majority of respondents said they would rather see athletic or after-school offerings dropped first.

Maiocco addressed several misunderstandings he said he has heard in the community about the district’s budget. For example, he said, many suggest the district go to a four-day school week to save money.

Maiocco said school days are longer in the four-day week, to make up instructional time, so there’s no savings to be had in teachers’ salaries. A modest savings could be had with classified employees, he said, assuming they were not needed on days school is not in session.

The most significant savings of a four-day week, he said, is in closing buildings for an extra day, which saves utilities.

“However, in Hermiston, we judged this as impractical given the current demand for after-school and weekday activities,” Maiocco said. “In my judgment, it is simply impractical to believe we can close our facilities for three days each week.”

When asked about transportation, Maiocco said no great savings could be found there either. The district would save just $75,000 by cutting one day from its transportation budget, which is about the price of one teacher.

Smith said the main reason many rural schools switched to the four-day week is because students often were absent on Fridays to travel long distances for athletic events.

Hermiston’s athletic competitors are relatively close, he said, and the number of athletes are such a small percentage of the student population that the four-day week is unnecessary.

The four-day week would mean a too-long interval between classes at the high school, Smith said. And it is hard on elementary students, he added; to ask a first-grader to attend school for eight hours a day is to ask a lot.

Maiocco said he would make a final decision about cuts after Tuesday night’s budget committee meeting. The list of jobs lost, however, will not be available until next week.

“I can tell you that these discussions are very painful for all involved,” he said. “Every employee in the Hermiston School District is valued and contributes to our mission no matter their employment classification.”

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