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Central Budget Picture Is Grim

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- The projected funding crisis for Central School District is growing more bleak by the month, as officials are now projecting a shortfall of $5.8 million for 2009-10.

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Hunter

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- The projected funding crisis for Central School District is growing more bleak by the month, as officials are now projecting a shortfall of $5.8 million for 2009-10.

On April 9, Gov. Ted Kulongoski sent a letter to school districts warning that the state's general fund revenue deficit for 2009-11 may total $5 billion, which will lower school appropriations by as much as 15 percent below his recommended $6.4 billion K-12 budget.

Kulongoski asked districts to prepare for state funding scenarios between $5.4 billion and $5.9 billion.

"We must not overreact and make irreversible cuts," Kulongoski wrote. "But we also must plan responsibly for greater budget shortfalls."

The letter says the figure assumes all federal stimulus dollars and special funds recently set aside by Oregon lawmakers was being fully utilized -- news to school officials across Oregon, Central Superintendent Joseph Hunter said.

"We just found out that the stimulus money had been applied," Hunter said. "We and most everybody else assumed it had not."

As such, the $3.5 million worst-case shortfall Central officials had been planning for during their current budget process has now jumped to $5.8 million. Central's 2008-09 operating budget was $25 million.

"We're having to start all over now," Hunter said. "The hole is getting much bigger and we're looking at reductions to everything."

No specific cuts have been identified. But possibilities include personnel attrition, athletics and contracted services, such as the high school's resource officer from Independence Police Department.

Hunter said a 15-day pay cut may be necessary and that discussions with classified, licensed and support employee groups have begun. A shortened calendar year is also being evaluated.

And "with a deficit like this, layoffs will be unavoidable," Hunter said.

Central School Board has asked staff to study a couple of provisions to fill the hole, such as four-day school weeks starting next fall and even an operating levy, Hunter said.

No budget will be complete until after the next state revenue forecast in May, he said.

Central had only recently shored up a $1.7 million gap for its 2008-09 shortfall after its teachers' union agreed to a five-day pay cut on April 7.

The district budget committee will receive a proposed 2009-10 budget during its first meeting on May 11 at Ash Creek Elementary School.

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