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Governors budget plan could mean 69 local teachers jobs

by: JON HOUSE - Interim-Superintendent Roger Rada said Monday that Gov. John Kitzhaber's proposed 2013-15 budget doesn't go far enough to keep the district from making steep cuts next year, including laying off employees.The Tigard-Tualatin School District should receive about $4 million in additional funding from the state next year.

You’d think School Board members would be jumping for joy. You’d be wrong.

Interim Superintendent Roger Rada told a packed house at Monday’s board meeting that the district was looking at between $5.9 million and $8 million in cuts next year, if Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposed budget moves forward as planned.

The district was hoping for good news from the governor’s proposed budget, which was released Nov. 30.

The governor’s proposed $16.5 billion 2013-15 budget saw a boost in K-12 funding by about 8 percent, sending about $4 million in additional funding to Tigard-Tualatin.

While the additional funding was “great,” Rada said offsets in the budget would keep that money from ever making it to the classroom.

Direct hit to schools

Rada and other district leaders didn’t disagree with the budget’s intent, such as lowering rates for the Public Employee Retirement System, but said the amount of education funding wasn’t large enough to adequately fund schools.

The budget is based on the belief legislators will limit increases to PERS, which make up a lion’s share of school district budgets each year.

In the 2013-14 school year, Rada said the district expected to increase its PERS spending by about $4 million.

Kitzhaber has said he wants to see comprehensive PERS reform. But Rada called those changes “problematic” as they would have to be approved by the Legislature and, likely, the court system.

“And any changes that do come are likely a year away,” Rada said, which would do little to alleviate the district’s budgetary concerns for this fall.

PERS isn’t the only issue affecting Tigard-Tualatin next year, Rada added.

The district is expected to lose about $1 million in services and flow-through money from the Northwest Regional Educational Service District if the governor’s proposed budget is approved.

Kitzhaber has called for reallocation of about 40 percent of the district’s ESD funding from the state to create a handful of training centers for teachers across Oregon, Rada said.

The ESD provides special education and technology services across the district.

“It’s a direct hit to local school districts in the Northwest Regional ESD,” Rada said. “It may not play out that way across the state, but for us, that’s what that is.”

The district is also expected to lose another $1 million from its local option levy. The levy — which taxes residents on the difference between their homes’ real market and assessed values — has been losing money for years as the market value of homes has dropped sharply during the recession.

The levy was taking in about $7 million a year four years ago. The levy next year is expected to bring in only about $2.4 million.

Equivalent of 69 teachers

The district has partially funded the current school year through the last of its cash reserves.

Those reserves — designed to last for five years — helped the district survive the worst of the recession. Rada and former superintendent Rob Saxton have said for years that when those reserves dry up in June 2013, the district would likely have to make significant cuts.

“Once we use it, it’s gone,” Rada said. “We can’t dip into the pot again.”

The district expects to spend between $4 million and $7 million from its reserves this year, Rada said.

Those reserves kept the district from cutting school days and laying of staff.

“We put a greater percentage of our educational dollars into the classroom than most districts in Oregon,” Rada said. “We’ve built prudent reserves and then, over the last several years, used them to offset much of the loss of state revenues.”

In total, Rada said cutting $6 million to $ 8 million would be the equivalent of losing more than three weeks of school or about 69 teachers.

“Those are big numbers,” Rada said. “And that doesn’t factor in any kind of increases like energy costs or the cost of teaching materials.”

The numbers didn’t sit well with School Board member Jill Zurschmeide, who said the proposed budget was inadequate to properly fund k-12 education.

“It’s amazing how on election day everybody is all for education, but come budget day, nobody seems to think it’s that important,” she said.

The district’s budgeting process doesn’t begin in earnest until early 2013. However, district leaders have been expecting big cuts, including layoffs, unless the the governor proposed hefty increases in state funding.

The governor’s budget will go before the state Legislature, which will make a final decision on the budget early next year.

“Fingers crossed that we get more money from the Legislature,” Rada told the School Board.

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