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LOSD on governors budget: Not enough money for K-12

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has made his budget recommendations for the next two years, and the powers-that-be in the Lake Oswego School District are not thrilled.

“It’s certainly not what we had hoped for,” said LOSD Superintendent Bill Korach. “We’re looking at something that will be a significant problem for us.”

LOSD is one of 10 school districts served by the Clackamas Education Service District, which provides various educational programs and services that are viewed as too costly or limited in demand for a single location.

Kitzhaber has recommended reallocating up to $120 million currently provided to ESDs through the State School Fund formula to Student Achievement Centers, new regional centers focused on promoting excellence in teaching and learning for teachers, faculty, child care and other early education professionals, leaders and instructional support personnel.

“All of our payroll systems go through the ESD, all of our assessment, all of our testing, all the databases go through the ESD and ... specialized special services program that provides service to our students ... is a significant part of what the ESD provides for us,” Korach said. “And (Kitzhaber) is looking at reducing funding for ESDs and shifting their focus, which essentially means that we’re going to get cost-shifted. So not only is the money short of the park, but we’re going to pick up additional costs that we are not currently incurring as we assess the ESD changes.”

“He’s pulling money away from the ESDs, and that’s just going to kill some of the districts in the state,” said Lake Oswego School Board Chairman John Wendland. “As far as Lake Oswego, we have a lot of our own resources because we’re a big enough district, but it will affect us because we use ESD services.”

Milt Dennison, Clackamas ESD superintendent, was not available for comment.

In October, Stuart Ketzler, LOSD executive director of finance, predicted that the amount of money that LOSD would have to contribute every year to Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System will be increasing from $4.5 million for fiscal year 2012-13 to $6.3 million for FY 2013-14 and to $6.5 million for FY 2014-15.

“With the PERS increases, it’s just taking so much of our resources and putting them into non-classroom resources,” Wendland said.

Kitzhaber said his budget “is first and foremost an education budget,” demonstrating a strong commitment to kindergarten through 12th-grade education, but Korach said the proposed funding— $6.15 billion for K-12 — was insufficient.

“The amount of money that (Kitzhaber) is looking at giving to K-12, given that we are going to have a significant increase in PERS responsibility, is going to be a real challenge for districts across the state, and certainly for us also,” he said. “It continues the trend of disinvesting in K-12, and continuing to increase investment in human services. In this kind of economic climate you can see that human services definitely is important, but ... it’s disappointing ... that we’re going to have to figure out how to continue to adjust to the inadequacy of the resources in relation to what we believe our community wants and needs in terms of program and class size.”

Wendland agreed.

“That they are looking at education, that’s encouraging, but the funding just is not sustainable for the long run. We just need teachers in the classroom, and I didn’t see anything in the budget that wanted to help that out in the K-12.”

Despite closing three elementary schools — Bryant, Uplands and Palisades — in the past two years to conserve financial resources, in August Ketzler determined that, “if current programs and ratios are maintained and assuming modest increases in state funding and PERS rate increases,” LOSD would have used its fund balance and be operating in a deficit by 2014-15.

“We knew that we were burning our cash reserves at a $3 million-a-year clip,” Korach said, adding that if the new budget is approved in its current iteration, “even with all the changes, the closing and consolidating schools, this is going to make it worse. It’s just going to add to that.”

Although the Lake Oswego School Board and district administration have been considering the option of selling a school property at some point in the future, Wendland said those funds would be used only to maintain remaining school facilities, and that the LOSD is financially secure enough not to act prematurely.

“The good thing is that Lake Oswego very consciously has been building a reserve to deal with cash balances,” he said, “so that we’ve got some time now to figure out how we can fit the sources that the state is giving us into delivering the best education we can for our kids, so we’re not forced to do knee-jerk fixes.”

The Oregon Legislature will be adjusting Kitzhaber’s proposed budget in the coming months, but Wendland said it could be as late as June before LOSD and other Oregon districts have an accurate impression of what resources will actually be made available.



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