More school districts announce employee furloughs
Teachers across Oregon are now filing for unemployment.
Sherwood, Beaverton and Scappoose school districts recently announced they will join the ranks of other districts in cutting employee hours and pay by 20%, in a move to try to sock funds away before the upcoming budget cycle.
With diminished state funding expected for the 2020-21 academic year, and a gloomy budget forecast, schools say they're trying to save money now, everywhere they can.
Some districts said they're preparing for staffing cuts and major budget reductions or heavy reserve spending next year.
"Governor Brown has directed state agencies to prepare reductions of 8.5 percent below current funding levels," Scappoose School District Superintendent Tim Porter said in a letter to families last week. Porter said that would mean a $654 million reduction in State School Fund dollars, which would cut into the Scappoose budget by $2.4 million.
The furloughs are expected to save each district hundreds of thousands of dollars in staffing costs.
Beaverton announced its furlough plans last week, notifying families in a social media post that "teachers will not be engaging with students on Fridays and we will provide optional resources for students."
On Tuesday, May 19, a day before the state's anticipated economic forecast report, the Sherwood School District confirmed it would follow suit.
"After careful consideration, our district will be implementing one furlough day per week for all eligible employees," the Sherwood School District stated. "You have likely heard that many of our neighboring districts are also utilizing the furlough model as well. For our district, payroll constitutes 86% of our yearly budget, and furlough days can provide substantial financial savings — which can decrease the need for layoffs or cutting programs long-term, both of which would have an impact on student learning."
The Forest Grove, Hillsboro and St. Helens school districts also implemented furloughs recently, after the state's largest district, Portland Public Schools, first led the charge for the four-day work week earlier this month.
The four-day work weeks take effect immediately and will see teachers facilitating distance learning with students Monday through Thursday, with "optional enrichment activities" being offered to students on Fridays. Schools across Oregon and the U.S. have been closed to students since March, and will remain closed for the remainder of the school year.
With the furloughs, employees can collect unemployment benefits through a state program called Work Share. By relying on Work Share, the districts avoid layoffs, while reducing employee hours enough that they qualify for unemployment benefits.
In addition to state benefits, school employees will also qualify for a federal weekly $600 benefit through the coronavirus relief package, meaning most teachers will see more pay while furloughed than they would if they were working full time.
Work Share representatives say despite the recent onslaught of public employees relying on unemployment, the state has enough funds to support the surge in claims.
"Oregon has one of the most solvent trust funds of any state in the nation," said Gail Krumenauer, spokesperson for the Oregon Employment Department. "We are monitoring our trust fund and do not see any imminent threats to running out of money. Much of the additional payments that are happening right now — like the additional $600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments — are fully federally funded."
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