SEASIDE — Cannon Beach Elementary School could be closed at the end of June to help make up a potential $1.55 million shortfall in next year’s Seaside School District budget.

Much of that shortfall is due to higher state Public Employees Retirement System costs.

District Supt. Doug Dougherty recommended the school’s closure – as well as eliminating 13.83 full-time equivalent positions, dropping district support for athletics at Broadway Middle School and reducing support for Seaside High School sports – during a district budget committee meeting April 16.

“It has been a particularly difficult year for everyone working on the budget,” Dougherty told budget committee members and an audience that spilled out of the conference room and into the hallway.

Dougherty noted that the budget he is proposing to the budget committee, and, ultimately, to the district board, is based on an assumption that the state Legislature will adopt the PERS reform goals in Senate Bill 822. The bill would reduce PERS rates.

However, he said, if the Legislature fails to pass the bill, the district would have to reduce its budget by an additional $357,000, bringing the total reduction amount to $1.9 million.

“We’ve been analyzing this from every angle – what’s possible and how we can make it work,” Dougherty said.

Since July 2010, PERS rates have increased from 3.07 percent to 18.63 percent, Dougherty noted, and they are expected to increase over the next 15 to 20 years.

From fiscal year 2010-2011 to 2011-2012, the district’s PERS contributions rose from $239,049 to $918,622.

Even with the proposed reductions in staff, the PERS contribution will be $1,049,810 next year.

To pay those costs, the district has been spending its cash reserves, but the reserves “have been almost totally reduced,” Dougherty said. The district will have to take out a short-term loan to meet operating expenses until it receives tax revenues in November.

In addition to PERS costs, the district lost $109,000 in property tax revenue from its local option tax measure due to the “compression” of real market values and assessed property values. The district is expecting a similar loss next year.

Compression occurs when the district’s tax rate is over the $5 per $1,000 limit allowed by law.

Another factor affecting the district budget was the requirement that the district pay $60,000 a year for the next 10 years as its share of the Georgia Pacific-Wauna Mill’s property tax settlement with Clatsop County.

In addition, Dougherty said, property tax revenue the district receives was much less than the county had forecast during the past two years, and the trend is expected to continue. Although Cannon Beach Elementary would be closed, if the budget committee and district board approve Dougherty’s proposal, staff members would not lose their jobs because they have more seniority than other district staff members, Dougherty said after the meeting.

The school’s 80 students would transfer with their teachers to Seaside Heights Elementary School, Dougherty said. Jobs would be found in other areas of the district for the remaining staff members, including the school secretary and custodians.

Dougherty said he didn’t know what would be done with the building or the property.

A task force in Cannon Beach has been working for a year to find land and raise funds to build a new elementary school. State geologists have deemed the current school to be unsafe in an earthquake and tsunami.

Dougherty said he would continue to keep a commitment to pay to staff the new school, if the community found a way to build it and if the cost per student is the same as the costs at Seaside Heights and Gearhart elementary schools.

However, he noted, the costs at Cannon Beach are considerably higher now; while they range from $6,100 to $6,300 per student at Seaside Heights and Gearhart, they are $8,900 per student at Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach minister David Robinson, who also is a school board member, said he didn’t feel good about the proposal.

“I hope we can open it again sometime,” Robinson said. “I love the school, I love the staff and I love the kids.”

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