Increased funding, energy savings and improved ratings outlook create hopes for a manageable school year

The most important word at the May 6 West Linn-Wilsonville School Board meeting may have been “stability.”

That’s the word that Superintendent Bill Rhoades used to characterize the budget outlook for the next biennium. With anticipated state funding of $6.75 billion in Oregon, including $6.55 billion in the state school fund and $200 million projected in PERS savings, Rhoades described the 2013-14 school year as “manageable” for the school district.

Rhoades said the anticipated level of funding would allow the district to regain some ground lost during recent years, perhaps restoring a few teaching positions, unfreezing some staff wages or reinvesting in programs like music and art. However, the district does not anticipate adding days to the school calendar or significantly reducing class sizes.

Business Manager Doug Middlestetter provided another piece of good financial news, reporting projected savings of approximately $200,000 on utility costs throughout the district this fiscal year. Although Middlestetter attributed those savings to the year’s relatively mild winter, Board Chairman Keith Steele questioned whether they might not be partially due to the district’s recent investments in energy retrofits throughout its buildings. Middlestetter acknowledged that possibility, saying he had noticed a three-year trend of decreasing energy bills.

“I was impressed,” he said, although he was not prepared to draw larger conclusions yet.

Middlestetter also offered information on the district’s 2013 rating report from Standard & Poor’s rating service. In 2012, S&P downgraded the district’s outlook from “stable” to “negative,” in part because of a lack of reserve funding and an unfavorable expenses to revenue ratio. Seeing improvement, S&P has indicated the possibility of returning the district’s “stable” rating, Middlestetter said, which is a development that, while positive, is unlikely to affect the ongoing bond refinancing project now underway.

In other financial news, the board approved two bids for construction projects under the 2008 capital bond. The first project involves improvements to the upper and lower student parking lots along Skyline Drive at West Linn High School. In addition, curbs, crosswalks and other elements will be added and improved along Skyline and A Street. Director of Operations Tim Woodley said he had been unsure if the bond would cover the full scope of the project, wondering if his office would have to scale down the plan to fit the budget.

“I’m pleased to say that we can do what we said we’d do with the bond,” he said of the project, which was bid at $1.49 million.

The second project concerns interior improvements and infrastructure work at Willamette Primary School, including changes to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project has a $1.21 million budget, and the winning bid was for $847,567. The contingency reserve includes funding for asbestos mitigation as necessary. Both projects should commence at the end of the school year and wrap up before students return, and both were unanimously approved by the board.

A public budget meeting was scheduled for Monday at Athey Creek Middle School. The budget committee will meet May 20 at 7 p.m. at the District Administration Building to deliberate and receive public comment.

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