Schools could borrow to maintain programs, class size

But district administrators are still uncertain how much will be needed

If there's one thing certain about the current fiscal year's budget for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, it's uncertainty.

Just to get through the 2006-2007 year, Superintendent Roger Woehl said he believes the district will have to take an advance (accrue) from the funds it normally would receive in July 2007.

That accrual could amount to about $1.5 million, a lot more than the amount he expected when he gave his budget message to the school board in May.

To prevent the need for that loan, the district would have to avoid hiring about 25 teachers, thus increasing class size and probably closing some programs.

But that's not likely to happen, because Woehl's administrative team and the school board have said they are bent on maintaining the high quality of education in district schools.

The district's beginning balance for this year was expected to be about $569,000, and Woehl says there was a chance that could have been increased by as much as $700,000 through state payments.

But none of those expected payments materialized, he said.

Other variables that could affect the number of dollars available to educate local children include the local option levy and the state's annual payments to school districts with new facilities.

Those funding sources, Woehl said, could reduce expected accrual.

'I expect that we will cut that (accrual) at least in half,' he said. 'And my greatest hope is that we cut it down to zero.'

But in the midst of those uncertainties, Woehl said he aims to keep all educational programs intact and add five or six certified teachers to cover increased enrollment of about 110 students.

Land sale proceeds may help

The recent signing of a contract for the sale of two pieces of district land also has an effect on the direction chosen by the school board and district administrators.

'It's pretty hard to talk to a community about making (educational program) cuts,' Woehl said, 'when we have a proposed sale and signed contracts on nearly $30 million of land sales.'

When that money is received, the superintendent said, the board will decide if a portion of the proceeds could be used for operational expenses or if all of it would be needed to purchase land for a future school site(s).

'During the summit, participants voted to use (land sale proceeds) for capital needs first,' he said, 'and then operations.'

Woehl also said that the budget has been balanced after the most recent capital bond funds were expended, which means that some salaries and other district costs that had been covered by bond funds are now a part of the district's budget.

One of the tools the district has to exert a little control on the amount of expenses is in its hiring of replacement teachers and other staff.

'In our budget, we put in place-holders for open positions that are based on the average teacher's salary,' Woehl said. 'In our district, an average teacher has 12½ years of experience and a master's degree plus. If we hire teachers with less experience, then our cost is less.'

Since the district could hire up to 40 people for next year, the savings could be significant.

But Woehl says he would not hire a less-experienced teacher just to save money.

Quality education, he says, is uppermost in the minds of the people responsible for hiring.

'There aren't many places to cut in our budget,' he said. '(The budget) is 83 percent people, and if we could save money it would be in hiring.'

But Woehl said he remains an optimist as well as a conservative budget planner.

'Because we are fairly conservative in our estimates,' he said, 'the overall trend is for positive things to come our way.'