Ione school teachers looked grim as they listened to plans to cut costs at an Ione school board budget workshop Tuesday afternoon.

The Ione school district, like every public school district in Oregon, has no idea how much revenue is coming next year. The school board only knows that it will be less - probably a lot less - than this year's revenue.

"It's a guessing game. Unfortunately, it affects our lives," said Steve Schaber, who teaches math, PE and health.

But the purpose of the workshop was not to decide how to accommodate next year's cuts - it was to reduce the district's current budget by $180,000, the amount that was taken from last year's ending fund balance and used to hire a new teacher and buy text books and computer hardware.

Because the district's revenue stream does not account for those expenditures, they aren't sustainable.

"As a very first starting point, we needed to cut to get back to what our actual revenue for this year was," said board member Lisa Rietmann.

The school board decided to spend the extra money last spring because they did not know what the future held, Rietmann said.

"If we knew then what we know now, we probably wouldn't have made that decision," Rietmann said. "But the reasoning was, if you're sitting on $500,000 of unappropriated ending fund balance, but short on staff, you start to question why you're not spending that money for the benefit of the kids."

Superintendent Karl Ostheller said the district also anticipated other sources of revenue, such as the state school improvement fund and the Willow Creek wind project gift, that would have supported the spending.

But, now that state revenue to schools has dropped so dramatically - the Ione School District lost about $50,000 this year in cuts - any extra money has disappeared.

For the workshop, the board prepared a sheet that spelled out possible cuts. They included delaying the purchase of textbooks, reducing teacher contract days, reducing the number of new books and periodicals for the library, and curtailing student field trips. The final option was the reduction of whole programs and staff numbers.

According to the board's plan, art, shop, and foreign languages would be the first on the chopping block.

After discussing the budget among themselves for about an hour, the board invited teachers to comment on the situation. Language arts instructor Becky Wagenblast spoke in favor of art and languages, saying that a lot of students excel best in those subjects.

"And we cannot, in good conscience, send them to college without at least two years of foreign language," she said.

Science and math teacher Dale Holland asked the board to keep them informed about program and teacher cuts, and also to include them in any decision-making. When the school board rearranges curriculum and teachers without informing those teachers, he said, "you can feel like a pawn piece."

"It's a lot easier if, after you make these tough decisions, you ask the staff, 'How we can best fill these gaps?' " he said.

Board member Bink Ramos said teachers would be the first to know of program cuts.

"How we soften the blow as best as possible - that's going to be up to you guys," he said.

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