La Grande School District may have to make staff cuts if enrollment does not increase

Mar. 10—LA GRANDE — Enrollment in the La Grande School District a year from now could play a big role in determining whether staff cuts will be needed to balance the district's 2024-25 budget.

"If enrollment next year at this time is not up, we may have to look at making reductions," said La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza during a Wednesday, March 8, La Grande School Board meeting.

The district's enrollment is down about 240 students since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, hurting the school district's budget since the state provides at least $8,000 per student. Mendoza said a portion of the decline is due to an increased number of students being home-schooled or attending online academies.

Mendoza said if the state budget for public education approved by the Oregon Legislature for the 2023-25 biennium is $9.9 billion, which is in the low range of what the Legislature is now considering, and enrollment in the district is about what it is now, four full-time teaching positions might have to be eliminated.

The superintendent said a fourth grade and a fifth grade teaching position might have to be cut, plus one teaching position at both La Grande Middle School and La Grande High School.

Mendoza said cuts would not be necessary if enrollment remains unchanged but the Legislature adopts a $10.3 billion budget for the 2023-25 biennium, which is also under consideration by the Legislature.

It does not appear that the La Grande School District will have to make staff cuts for 2023-24 even if enrollment does not increase, due to federal COVID-19 funding the school district still has. The school district's pandemic-relief funding will run out, though, after 2023-24.

"After next year, we will no longer have (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding," Mendoza said.

A name not to be forgotten

The district's future academic and athletic center building now has a formal name.

The La Grande School Board voted to name the building the Wildcat Center, after the La Grande Middle School mascot, according to LMS Principal Chris Wagner.

The naming committee narrowed the number of names under consideration from 51 to five, and the Bond Oversight Committee trimmed that list to three.

"We wanted a name that is easy to say and is associated with La Grande Middle School," said Wagner, a member of the naming and the bond oversight committees.

The Wildcat Center was the first choice of both committees.

Mike Becker General Contractor is the general contractor for the building project.

The school district's new multi-purpose building is being funded by a $4.845 million bond levy that voters approved in May 2022, and a $4 million Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching program grant the school district will receive from the state.

Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or