CCSDs portion of the $100 million the Oregon legislature committed to k-12 education will be used to continue restoring programs cut during the recession

by: JASON CHANEY - Miss Powers' fourth grade Cecil Sly Elementary class dances with elementary music teacher Phil White. The school district added the music teacher position this year as part of an ongoing effort to restore programs cut during the recession.

When the special session of the Oregon Legislature concluded a month ago, lawmakers expressed particular satisfaction in allocating more money for public education.

The three-day session ultimately yielded $100 million statewide for k-12 schools beginning in the 2014-15 school year, and the Crook County School District plans to use their share to continue restoring what the recession forced them to cut.

“The focus for me the last three years has been to steadily increase the funding to kids programs and classrooms while maintaining a full spectrum of things,” said Superintendent Duane Yecha.

To that end, Business Manager Anna Logan said the district took a calculated risk and spent down their more than $4 million in cash reserves to maintain programs with the assumption that the legislature would make good on a plan to increase school funding.

“What our administration has tried to do is level out the hills and valleys,” she explained. “Instead of making severe cuts to services one year and then restoring them the following year, we made the decision to use that (reserve money).” During the 2012-13 and current school years, the district budgeted to spend the $4.6 million general fund reserve down to about $1.5 million. Although district leaders are still waiting to find out how much of the $100 million local schools will receive, they anticipate it will make up for the deficit-spending risk they took and enable them to continue restoring lost programs.

“We would like to do those transfers (to restore programs) and still break even or keep our ending fund balance at a certain minimum level,” Logan said.

Yecha believes that state school funding is headed in a good direction, and he appreciates the work that the legislature did on schools’ behalf.

“It sounds to me like the State of Oregon has picked a strategic direction, and see a need to invest in the future, invest in children, and are willing to provide some extra funding to do that,” he said.

At this time, the school district has yet to determine how they will use the additional funds. Logan said she is still gathering information, and that the budget committee and school board will make decisions in the spring.

At the same time, Yecha pointed to a list of budget initiatives in the current district budget that highlights some priorities as they restore programs. These include the addition of middle school Spanish, more outdoor school and athletics funding, math curriculum improvements, the addition of an elementary school music teacher and elementary school counselors, as well as technology classes and staff.

“We were optimistic that the legislature would in fact grant some more funding,” Yecha said. “I am thankful for what they accomplished in the special session.”

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