Forest Grove could get $825K in 2014-15 due to legislative bills

Local schools got some very good news last week.

During a special session in Salem Oct. 1-3, the Oregon Legislature passed a package of bills that included reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System — changes that will give the state’s schools some extra funding.

In the long run, the modifications are expected to save about $4.6 billion, officials said. Schools will get a portion of $200 million dedicated to higher education, mental health programs and senior services.

“This is a huge win for our children and our schools,” Betsy Miller-Jones, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said in a press release. “Oregon’s public schools have been steadily losing ground, in the form of larger class sizes and shorter school calendars, over the last decade.”

In Forest Grove, business manager Mike Schofield said he estimates the district will receive about $825,000 in new revenue for the 2014-15 academic year. “PERS reforms won’t take effect until the 2016-17 biennium and will reduce the predicted increases” in state workers’ retirement accounts, he added.

Classroom days that had originally been cut “were fully restored prior to the additional revenue” from the special session, Schofield said. “Class size and other staffing is currently being discussed” in light of the expected windfall.

Banks Superintendent Bob Huston said the news was “much sweeter than we anticipated.”

With the money the school district expects to receive for the 2014-15 school year —the amount of which Huston could not immediately estimate — district officials will start by restoring lost school days (this year, teachers are taking five furlough days; last year, they took 10) and hiring more staff, he said.

“I think those will be priorities, but everyone needs to weigh in,” said Huston, who added there will likely be a public hearing in the spring, during which community members can weigh in on the distribution of funds.

Since 2009, the district has made about $1.5 million in cuts.

Huston said he’d like to see some technology updates, as much of the school’s equipment is outdated.

Other places of past reduction Huston said he’d like to see restored include teaching positions for physical education and advanced placement classes, and a maintenance staff member. As the budget planning moves forward, “this will put us in a much better position than we planned,” he said.

Gaston Superintendent David Beasley said Monday he couldn’t ballpark the amount of money the smallest, most western Washington County school district might receive from the Legislature’s moves.

— Nancy Townsley contributed to this report.

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