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More cuts on way for Hillsboro schools?

Many questions remain unanswered in the Hillsboro School District’s 2013-14 budget puzzle. But one thing is certain: more cuts are on the way.

In a budget committee work session last week, Superintendent Mike Scott told members the district’s target for reductions is $8 million.

A “reduction recommendation group” made up of district-level staff, principals, assistant principals and board members met to review and discuss what more there is to cut in what will be a fifth year of budget reductions for the district.

Still in question, though, is the state legislature’s K-12 funding for the 2013-15 biennium and whether or not Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) reforms will play a role in sending more state dollars toward public education.

District financial officer Adam Stewart told budget committee members that $8 million in budget reductions would not dip into the district’s $8.2 million in reserve funds. Reserve funds over the last five years have dipped to about 5 percent of the district’s general fund, a number Stewart called “relatively healthy” compared to other area school districts.

A proposal to begin to upgrade the district’s aging computers and technology would draw $1.5 million from the district’s $6.5 million bond interest fund. A technology upgrade plan put before the board last month calls for the district to spend $1.5 million next year to provide newer computers and bolster technology infrastructure at the district’s schools. A study showed that nearly 60 percent of the district’s desktop computers are at least six years old.

Even before the budget committee begins its work in earnest, though, there is dissent among members about how much to cut and whether to bolster reserve funds to healthier levels.

“I don’t think $8 million is enough,” said board member Carolyn Ortman, indicating that it’s easier to make cuts now and add back later than make a second round of cuts.

Board member Wayne Clift agreed, saying it makes sense to look ahead more than one year. He suggested the district “take a more proactive accounting of what’s coming.”

“I can understand the financial part of it,” said board chair Janeen Sollman in reference to building reserve funds. “It will be tough to explain to the community. I can’t support the idea of building up (reserves) at the expense of more cuts.”

The budget committee meets April 23 for a discussion of detailed budget reductions, followed by a “superintendent listening session” scheduled for April 25 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Brown Middle School. Both meetings are open to the public.

Scott will present a formal 2013-14 budget proposal to the budget committee on May 9.




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