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State OKs $6.55 billion for schools

Funding is what Lake Oswego school board has planned for


Amid an atmosphere of teacher and program cuts statewide, the Oregon House approved an education budget on Monday that offers beleaguered school districts, including Lake Oswego, a boost — although two other bills with a potential multimillion-dollar impact on education fizzled out this week.

State funding constitutes 70 percent of the Lake Oswego School District’s resources, so the bills that fluttered across legislators’ desks held the potential for great improvements locally. So far, education resources of $6.75 billion remain as district officials expected with a pale beam of hope slowly fading as additional efforts for revenue flounder.

The 2013-15 education budget directly allocates $6.55 billion to public schools. The House passed the budget by a landslide vote of 53-5 with two excused legislators.

The vote was not unexpected. The $62 million general fund budget the Lake Oswego school board adopted last month was based on the Joint Ways and Means Committee’s recommended state education budget, which is what succeeded in Salem.

School board member John Wendland said the approved state budget may include the funding the board expected, but even with PERS savings, costs of the retirement system continually rise. PERS serves many public entities, including the local school district.

“Even though (the budget includes) more than what we’ve gotten before, it’s still short of what we need,” Wendland said.

The budget, Senate Bill 5519, constitutes a $1 billion increase from the previous biennium when coupled with the $200 million in school district savings to Public Employee Retirement System in Senate Bill 822. That bill passed earlier this legislative session.

Rep. Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, said because Senate Bill 822 alters the PERS cost-of-living adjustment, the $200 million is only the savings for the coming biennium, and there’s more to come. However, it was a difficult decision because the people who receive PERS benefits “haven’t done anything wrong” and don’t deserve to have money taken away from them, Garrett said.

However “there’s a general widespread feeling that there were some excesses in the PERS system, and there are some very high costs that needed to be controlled,” he said.

Senate Bill 857, which also would have modified PERS, on Tuesday was re-referred to the Finance and Revenue Committee for further review, giving it a slim chance of survival. It could raise an estimated $355 million for the 2013-15 biennium, state documents say.

House Bill 2456 hit the wall when the Senate voted 15-15 on it on Tuesday, but it could be reconsidered this month. It would have brought in more revenue, about $195 million, to the state because it changed the state’s personal income tax structure. For instance, it would have phased out itemized deductions on incomes higher than $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filers, state documents say.

Despite some education-funding roadblocks, many hailed the schools budget as an accomplishment because of its growth over previous budgets.

The Oregon Senate pushed Senate Bill 5519 over to the house with a 22-8 vote last week. The bill had broad support, said state Sen. Richard Devlin, Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairman.

“Although some people would question whether or not it was adequate, most school districts see it as a major improvement,” said Devlin, D-Tualatin, of District 19, which includes Lake Oswego.

The budget will allow many school districts to rehire teachers and stabilize programs, said Jared Mason-Gere, spokesman for House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.

“The last half- decade has seen over 7,000 teacher layoffs and seemingly endless cuts to school days,” Kotek said in a press release. “With this budget we’re offering school districts certainty and stability; we’re positioning Oregon schools to turn the corner so we can begin reinvesting in the most critical element of our future prosperity.”

After receiving several state legislators’ signatures, the budget will require a signature from Gov. John Kitzhaber. Though the legislators’ budget is more than the $6.15 billion budget Kitzhaber proposed, he supports Senate Bill 5519 and commends those who passed it.

“The K-12 budget will allow school districts to begin planning for the next school year and supports our goal of delivering better results for students and more resources for teachers,” Kitzhaber said in a prepared statement. “However, the revitalization and restoration of public education in Oregon isn’t just about a K-12 budget number.

“It’s about making smart, strategic investments that give us the greatest leverage for improvement, including kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency, high school completion, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), workforce readiness, and teacher effectiveness.”

State funding aside, Lake Oswego schools receive great community support with revenue from the local option levy, up for renewal in November, and donations from the Lake Oswego School District Foundation, Wendland said.

“Those are big positives in Lake Oswego,” he said.




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