After the Legislature passed a package adding $1 million to K-12 schools, East County districts look ahead

Amid the federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1, good news came out of Oregon’s Capitol.

During a special session, the Oregon Legislature passed a package last week that will provide an additional $100 million to K-12 schools.

The K-12 funding is intended to restore lost school days and hire back teachers to reduce class sizes.

The package also will provide $25 million for the Oregon University System and $15 million for community colleges to control tuition hikes.

“I am proud of my fellow legislators, our Democrat and Republican leaders and the governor for making this a historic session that benefits Oregon and her people,” said Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, in a press release.

During the special session, legislators agreed to reduce the cost of the Public Employees Retirement System by limiting cost-of-living raises and health insurance increases.

They also raised taxes on high-income earners, cut taxes for small businesses and dedicated a cigarette tax to mental health services, along with approving a controversial bill regarding agricultural seeds.

The package could yet receive legal challenges by public employees, but school districts are cautiously factoring the additional funds into their fiscal plans.

Reynolds School District is anticipating savings of $1 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year that would create the opportunity to fund other programs and initiatives, said Spokeswoman Andrea Watson.

She described the funding as savings on a budgeted expense.

“We have not decided how to spend the savings yet,” Watson said. “The PERS costs have been lowered but they aren’t sending us any more money, we just don’t have to pay a bill we thought we would be paying.”

At the Centennial School District, administrators are looking ahead to an extra $1 million in the second year of the biennium.

“The administration will make a recommendation in April in our proposed budget,” said Rick Larson, director of business and operations for Centennial School District. “We’ve only had very general discussions and we’re waiting to see what the timing would be.”

Athena Vadnais, spokeswoman for Gresham-Barlow School District, said the district estimates it will receive $2 million extra.

“We believe we will receive the funds in time to use them for the 2014-15 school year, which is the second year of the biennium,” Vadnais said. “The state has outlined that the funding will be used by districts to restore a full school year and hire staff to lower class sizes.”

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