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Central's Budget Cut Put At 18 Percent

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Oregon's revenue shortfall for the upcoming biennium will total $3.8 billion, according to information released by the state Office of Economic Analysis on May 15.

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Oregon's revenue shortfall for the upcoming biennium will total $3.8 billion, according to information released by the state Office of Economic Analysis on May 15.

That's significantly less than the $4.4 billion some lawmakers had predicted in recent weeks, but hardly comforting news for the Central School District as it tries to finalize its 2009-10 budget.

"I don't know any superintendent who's dancing happily about the numbers," Central Superintendent Joseph Hunter said.

The district is projecting a $5.6 million deficit next year, with revenue expected to be 18 percent less than the $29.6 million needed to maintain current staffing and program levels.

Central's $24.1 million budget for 2009-10 is based on a worst-case scenario in which the state provides only $5.4 billion for K-12 education during the next two years.

"The forecast is one piece of the puzzle," Hunter said. "We have to wait and see (before approving the district's budget) how state leaders divide the pie up and see what it means for education.

"The governor, Senate and House are all talking about sources of funding, including reallocation of resources and taxation," Hunter added.

The legislative Ways and Means Committee was expected to have identified a target allocation for schools after press time on Tuesday.

The state had forecasted a $3.3 billion general fund deficit in February. Hunter said this latest estimate is still "ugly."

The state also revealed last week that $351 million must be cut from the remaining 2007-09 budget cycle. This is on top of cuts and emergency funds authorized by legislators in March to shore up a then-$855 million gap.

Hunter said the district would take no action on this issue until state lawmakers decide whether or not to tap federal money and rainy day funds, or pass more cuts on to schools.

"With a month left, what are we going to do?" he asked.

If Oregon's financial picture doesn't improve before the end of next month, proposed cuts for Central in 2009-10 include the following:

* Twenty-eight teaching and counseling positions and 29 classified and support jobs will be eliminated.

* All middle- and high school athletic programs will be dropped.

* The district will no longer contract with Polk County Mental Health for health counseling personnel, and will fund only one campus resource officer from Independence Police Department instead of two.

Hunter said it was possible that only two or three school counselors would be on staff next year to serve all district buildings. Class sizes would probably grow to above 30 students at elementary schools and 40 students at Central High.

"We conferred with the core administrative team and tried to focus on core academics" when determining reductions, said Beau Horn, Central director of secondary instruction at a May 11 meeting of Central's budget committee at Ash Creek Elementary School. About 50 staff and community members attended.

"We tried to do this surgically and not just hack away at numbers," Horn said.

Rory Baxter of Independence opined that the district must cut every unnecessary expense to spare teachers' jobs.

"Money on mailings, on travel for administrators," Baxter said, noting that she had recently received multiple copies of a recent district letter.

"It breaks my heart to know you're going to cut so many valuable teachers," she said. "I'm concerned that just because (first- and second-year teachers) are at the bottom of the totem pole, they'll get cut first."

The Central School District Budget Committee will hold its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26 at Ash Creek Elementary School.

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