The budget future of Beaverton schools remains - if not scary - on very shaky ground. This prospect exists even though the School District Budget Committee ended a marathon Tuesday night session by voting 9-5 to restore $3.33 million in proposed school budget cuts.
The budget committee voted to retain all library/media specialists in the district; maintain half-time library, physical education and music specialists in six small schools; and back away from a plan to cut the athletic and activities budgets by 10 percent. The athletic cuts would have dropped funding for water polo, golf and second-level junior varsity sports.
While we applaud the committee's commitment to doing their best for all kids in the district, we think this pledge of additional funding is at best subject to further evaluation, and more likely subject to cuts if a variety of quite optimistic funding expectations don't fall into place.
Frankly, we just can't see of these funding rescues happening, which will be a sad loss for schools.
Here is a scenario that we have doubts about:
n One is what happens on May 12, when the latest state funding forecasts are released. While some state experts are predicting an improved financial picture for the state, Gov. John Kitzhaber has warned state legislators and local school and city officials that he believes Oregon should put any additional funds in a rainy day savings account and not spend these funds on one-time expenditures;
n Second, we worry that the Beaverton plan is banking too much on the legislature authorizing a $5.8 billion threshold for K-12 school support, although the initial budget for schools calls for only $5.7 billion;
n And third, we are challenged to believe that all school district employee groups will agree to accept cost of living and other wage freezes that will provide the district nearly $2.5 million in savings. This means that teachers, classified staff and administrators would have to accept either pay freezes or reduced cost of living increases on top of the four furlough days that are already in place. Through the past few years, district employees have made concessions that have already helped reduced the extent of budget cuts. We are unsure how much more they are able and willing to give up.
The problem in Beaverton and other Washington County school districts only mounts as the economic recovery moves forward in slow, incremental steps. And on top of that, the district still plans to cut $26 million from its operating budget.
We don't advocate harming education in Beaverton schools by callously extracting more cuts and imposing more pain for students and staff.
Yet, we do advocate budget realism - not shaky, hopeful revenue planning. And we advocate a full set of contingency plans that prioritize funding on essential educational programs and that immediately respond to outcomes in Salem, and discussions with employee groups that likely won't produce the additional funds projected by the Budget Committee Tuesday night.