Members briefed on the challenges ahead

During a recent workshop, members of the Estacada School District budget committee were given a glimpse of the challenges they will soon face.

The informational workshop was held Wednesday, March 13, in the choir room at Estacada High School. Steve Woods, a former EHS principal and vice-chairman of the school board, began the meeting by holding up a binder-bound budget document and describing it as “intimidating.”

“It’s real tough to put together a budget,” Woods said. “You don’t have any idea what you’re going to get.”

Those sentiments were echoed by district Business Manager Donna Cancio. She said the ending fund balance is an indicator of a district’s financial health, and added that Estacada’s has been cut in half over the last three years.

That is due to a number of factors, Cancio said, including the weakened economy and continued declining student enrollment in the district.

State funding support is based on enrollment, she said, and the loss of students has been a “persistent” trend in the district for the last decade.

Since the November 1990 passage of ballot Measure 5, which limited property taxes throughout Oregon, at least 75 percent of school districts’ funding now comes from the state, Cancio said.

During the 2003-05 biennium, education funding was around 45 percent of the state’s general fund, Cancio said, which dropped to 39 percent for 2011-13.

Cancio said federally mandated spending reductions, commonly referred to as “sequestration,” will affect some of the district’s programs. Some staff members currently are paid through federal Title I and Title IIA funds. Their salaries will have to come from the district’s general fund if those federal cuts continue, Cancio said.

The district has responded to its own budgetary challenges by examining whether or not to replace positions that come open through retirement or resignation, Cancio said, reminding committee and audience members that “we made some painful mid-year cuts.”

Cancio said that over the long-term, the district might have to re-size.

“We’re looking at the best way to do that,” she said.

Such a scenario would cause larger class sizes and reductions in support staff. Cancio added that most of the district’s staff has gone the last three years without any pay raises.

“At some point, we’ll have to address that,” Cancio said.

The district is anticipating a deficit of between $1.7 million and $2.1 million, based on the figures released earlier this month by the co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Cancio cautioned that a lot can happen at the state level between now and June that will affect the budget committee’s process.

“The Legislature is just getting warmed up,” Cancio said.

Cancio said that the district’s administrators are collaborating with its union bargaining groups on the best ways to cut costs.

“Those are the major challenges we’re facing,” she said.

The committee’s next informational workshop is scheduled for April 10. On May 8, that group will review the proposed budget and accept public comment.

Once the committee approves the budget, it will be sent to the school board for adoption.

All school districts in Oregon are required by law to have their budgets finalized by the June 30.

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