Members discuss upcoming PERS increase, whether to be conservative in spending

Despite concerns about whether the West Linn-Wilsonville 2018-19 proposed budget should reflect more savings now to prepare for a $7 million estimated cost increase for the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) program during the 2019-21 biennium, the WL-WV Budget Committee passed a resolution May 14 to present the proposed budget at the June 11 school board meeting for adoption.

The proposed budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year — which includes more than $112.5 million set aside for general funds, an increase of about $10.9 million from the 2017-18 fiscal year — is based on an expected state funding level of $8.2 billion to support K-12 school districts from 2017-2019. However, the state funding level is subject to change before the adoption of the budget.

During the May 14 budget committee meeting, several questions were raised as members — comprised of board members and citizens — dug into the district's proposed budget.

One concern surrounded the current ending fund balance of approximately $8.7 million — money carried over from the 2017-18 fiscal year — and whether the school district should be more conservative because of the known PERS increase or consider spending some of it.

Doug Middlestetter, WL-WV business manager, said the school district currently has its highest ending fund balance in the last 20 years.

"My projections going forward into the 2019-21 biennium show us needing to use that reserve, maybe even all of it, to help us deal with the rising costs of PERS," said Middlestetter after the meeting, adding that the school district could benefit from having an even higher ending fund balance. "It will be hard to increase our fund balance any more as we start to draw on it heavily as we begin to deal with the rising costs of PERS."

Board member Dylan Hydes said he is inclined to have a stronger ending fund balance now but acknowledged that he doesn't want to short-change current students.

The proposed budget has about $3 million in a PERS reserve fund as well as a projected local option revenue of almost $8.5 million — which generates additional revenue for adding classroom teachers — to compensate for budget shortfalls.

With the school district's estimated increase of 70 students next year, board member Betty Reynolds said she'd prefer that the school district report its enrollment numbers to the state at the beginning of the year so state funding would be available earlier.

"I'd like to see (the state funding) follow those students as they arrive rather than waiting until the end of the reporting period and then adding it to the ending fund balance," Reynolds said.

If the increase in enrollment is reported later in the year, the state funds will go into the ending fund balance to be used the following year.

But board member Regan Molatore said the timing of when state funding is available isn't as important as the fact that the schools start spending as soon as students arrive.

"So we know the money is coming whether it comes at the end of the school year, beginning of the school year, it doesn't matter as long as we add that forecasted increase into our budget and start spending," Molatore said.

Board member Chelsea Martin questioned where the district is investing enough in programs for primary students who need an extra challenge.

"I don't want students going to private schools because they think they need that additional challenge," Martin said. "I want them to stay in our public schools."

Superintendent Kathy Ludwig assured Martin there are enrichment classes students can take and there have been investments in higher quality software and technology for students who need advanced learning, as well as access to books online if students are reading above grade level.

"It's nested in a lot of places but we are paying attention to it," Ludwig said.

Though the budget committee approved the 2018-19 proposed budget, Reynolds voted no because she thought there were too many unanswered questions regarding the PERS reserve fund, counselor caseloads, the summer lunch program, school enrollment and more.

The proposed budget will be brought to the June 11 school board meeting at 6 p.m. for further discussion and adoption. The meeting will be held at the district office, 22210 S.W. Stafford Road, Tualatin, and is open to the public.

Also during the budget committee meeting, a resolution was passed that awards R&H Construction Co. for a contract amount of slightly more than $2 million to replace the existing grass field at Inza R. Wood Middle School with artificial turf. This contract also includes the installation of sports field lighting at the football field. The work will occur over the summer with plans to be completed by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

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