Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
March 13, 2013
POLK COUNTY -- The state government giveth to schools and the federal government taketh away.
Last week, Sen. Richard Devlin and Rep. Peter Buckley, co-chairmen of the state Joint Ways and Means Committee, released their state budget proposal, which provides $6.75 billion for K-12 schools in the 2013-15 biennium.
While $200 million is in Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) reforms -- an uncertain prospect -- $6.55 billion without reform is more generous than Gov. John Kitzhaber's proposal of $6.15 billion.
However, federal government sequester cuts put a damper on what should have been good news. The automatic reductions -- set into motion due to a failure by the White House and Congress to strike a fiscal deal -- translate to 5 to 7 percent cuts or more to programs funding education in high-poverty schools and for students with special needs.
For Dallas School District, that amounts to $45,000 in funding for high-poverty schools and $23,000 in special education funding. Those dollars will have to be replaced, said Dallas Superintendent Christy Perry.
"That's another teaching position right there between those two," she said.
Perry said the $6.55 billion state school base proposal from the co-chairs is a positive step, but Dallas needs PERS reforms -- which seek to lower PERS-related costs to government agencies through changes to cost of living adjustment increases -- to succeed.
"With PERS reforms we can almost have a full school year with existing staff," she said. "If you don't have PERS reform, we are short about $500,000."
Meanwhile, Central School District seems to be the hardest hit through the sequester.
In 2013-14, the district stands to lose $242,682 and a similar amount the following year.
Central's cuts are higher due to the district's larger population of students served by the federal programs, said Central Business Manager Cec Koontz.
Koontz said she isn't assured of the passage of the $6.55 billion proposal, either.
Koontz said it pulls resources from other state programs that will lobby against further cuts.
If the budget gets past numerous challenges Koontz believes is ahead, it would provide stable funding for the district.
The likelihood of PERS reform is shakier still in Koontz opinion.
"We just don't want to count on those reforms," she said.
Neither does Perrydale Business Manager Julie Braxling.
She was in the middle of writing the district's 2013-14 budget Monday. She was basing it on a $6.55 billion state school fund, with no PERS reforms.
She said she's writing the budget with no cuts based on that amount of funding, but will have to wait until the process is finished to see if that will truly be the case.
"I haven't seen the bottom line yet," Braxling said. "I'm anxious to see how it comes out."
She said federal sequester cuts could amount to 5.5 to 10 percent less in affected programs at Perrydale.
In Falls City, no further cuts would be needed if the co-chairs' budget were approved and enrollment is stable, said Falls City Superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady. However, that wouldn't stop $82,000 in cuts already in process.
For Falls City, the total sequester amount is only about $5,000, which could be covered with reserves.
As to PERS, Evenson-Brady is concerned the reform proposal is too similar to a past, unsuccessful attempt.
"It's not something I would take to the bank right now," she said.