State Legislatures special session directs additional $100 million to schools

When Gov. John Kitzhaber called Oregon lawmakers back to Salem for a special session last week, there was much talk of a “grand bargain” that would raise revenue, reform Oregon’s public employee retirement system (PERS) and send more money to public schools.

On Oct. 2, lawmakers passed a package of bills that will direct $100 million to K-12 schools, $40 million to universities and community colleges, $41 million to senior programs and $20 million to mental health services in the current budget cycle.

There were five bills in the special section package, including House Bill 5101 and Senate Bill 861. HB5101 provides $100 million to the Department of Education for the State School Fund. SB861 may not go into effect, but it would modify the cost of living adjustment on annual benefits for Oregon’s PERS retirees. PERS is the primary pension for public employees across the state.

The long-term savings of the special session’s pension-reform legislation is $4.6 billion.

The Oregon Supreme Court may void SB861. A coalition of unions could add it to a case against Senate Bill 822, which also changes the PERS cost of living adjustment. SB822 was passed in the 2013 regular session.

Schools can access the funds through HB5101 on July 1.

RhoadesIn West Linn-Wilsonville, Superintendent Bill Rhoades anticipated receiving a little more than $1.3 million.

“During the last biennium we were able to bring back cut school days and offer a full school year,” he said. “We were also able to maintain our comprehensive and enriched programs. It is clear that our community considers the restoration of teaching positions and the shrinking of class size a high priority.”

Under Rhoades’ leadership, WL-WV considers sustainability as a factor in strategic planning, so that gains like lower teacher-to-student ratios are consistent, rather than one-time benefits.

“During our budget process last spring we committed to our budget committee, staff and community that new revenue would be allocated to restoring teaching positions,” Rhoades said. “Importantly, we committed to doing so in a way that would be sustainable over time. We have already taken considerable steps in this regard and will continue to use new revenue from enrollment increases and a supportive education foundation in combination with additional state funding to strategically restore teaching positions.”

The new revenue would affect planning for the 2014-15 school year.

“We still have some work to do, but we are pleased to have this opportunity at this time and we are very appreciative of all who have supported the district in getting to this place,” he said. “We will have a chance to revisit our priorities as we work through our budget development process this winter and spring.” Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, Rob Saxton, praised lawmakers, saying the additional $100 million in funding for Oregon’s public K-12 schools would have great impact.

“For our districts, this will mean a longer school year, reduced class sizes or increased instructional opportunities for our kids,” he said. “One-hundred million dollars equates to 500 additional teachers or 2.5 additional school days for the entire state. These are investments that will directly impact student learning and outcomes.”

Other bills in the special session included Senate Bill 862, which prevents employer-paid insurance from being added as part of final salary when tabulating PERS retirement benefits. It keeps future legislators from joining PERS and makes a different retirement system for them. The bill also permits wage garnishment if a PERS retiree is convicted of a felony. Other bills prohibit the enactment of local regulations on agriculture and increase corporate excise tax rates on taxable income from $1 million to $10 million.

Senate Bill 822, from the regular session, could save more than $400 million for all government agencies this biennium and $200 million for school districts and education service districts alone, according to Oregon School Boards Association documents.

A coalition of public employee unions — including the largest public sector union in the state, SEIU Local 503 — are taking lawmakers to court, calling SB822 unconstitutional and a breach of contract. The coalition also could be contesting SB861, although probably not SB862, said Greg Hartman, an attorney for the unions.

The “’special session bill package is nothing other than a disgrace to our state,” said SEIU Local 503 Executive Director Heather Conroy in a prepared statement. “Pulling the rug out from under low-wage seniors while giving more tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations isn’t the Oregon way.”

Hartman said by altering the COLA, the Legislature is breaking a deal it made with unions on a PERS statute that “has remained unchanged since 1973,” he said.

“We say that’s part of the PERS contract, and the Legislature can’t come in and change it,” Hartman said.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine