A worsening state economic forecast sent shock waves through Jackson County schools today as the prospect looms of almost three years of drastic education downturns.

A worsening state economic forecast sent shock waves through Jackson County schools today as the prospect looms of almost three years of drastic education downturns.

Administrators in Medford, Central Point and Eagle Point said today's forecast means they will have to cut staff or days students attend school this spring as well as in the coming year.

Medford will have to cut 13.5 days from the remainder of the school year if the governor's position against using rainy-day funds holds, said Medford Superintendent Phil Long.

"It just seems absurd to put that burden on schools when there is a school fund to help in instances like this," he said.

It was not clear today which days the district would eliminate.

Central Point already has decided not to fill three vacant positions, said Superintendent Randy Gravon.

The loss of a first-grade classroom teacher position at Sams Valley Elementary resulted in class sizes in the high 20s for that grade instead of the low 20s, said Gravon. At Crater High a social studies teacher and counselor position also weren't filled.

Gravon said if Salem falls doesn't find a way to make up the difference, it could mean more than five days that school would have to be closed this year, or a reduction in staff.

Without any financial help from the state or federal stimulus, Eagle Point is looking at cutting 10 to 12 days out of the school year, said Superintendent Cynda Rickert.

"I'm hopeful we will get some help, but I think our responsibility is to make our own plans for ourselves and our districts," she said.

She noted that things change so quickly at the state and federal level that it is difficult to predict the kind of financial help schools could receive.

In today's forecast, state Economist Tom Potiowsky says the Oregon budget deficit has grown to $855 million for the current biennium and will reach nearly $3 billion for 2009-11.

He predicted a decline of about $100 million more for the current biennium than his preliminary forecast last month.

He estimated that unemployment would continue to grow for the rest of 2009 and the state would not see any decreases until the middle of next year.

"We're falling, basically, into a pit," Potiowsky said. "We hit the bottom sometime mid this year."

— Damian Mann