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More questions than answers

The Legislature leaves Jackson County's schools wondering about &

36;15 million

Despite five legislative special sessions to resolve Oregon's budget crisis, school districts have found nothing but fiscal mischief in the latest state revenue estimates released this week.

They did not do anything for us in the special sessions, said Vicki Robinson, finance director for Central Point schools. They hurt us. They've done this at the expense of students in the state of Oregon.

Charles Hellman, superintendent of Rogue River schools, said, The result of the five sessions has left school districts in a funding void.

Schools discovered that the latest revenue projections used to build their budgets provide &

36;15 million on paper to Jackson County schools that they might never get.

Some &

36;11 million is the amount schools will be allowed to borrow in this biennial budget, according to the Oregon Department of Education. This may or may not be reimbursed in the next biennium, depending on what happens in the next legislative session.

Another &

36;4 million, or &

36;145 a student, is what Jackson County schools could expect from the passage of Measure 28, which would raise income taxes by &

36;312 million throughout Oregon. Voters will decide on the measure in January.

Robinson said her district financially has braced for the funding shift, but not for Measure 28.

If it fails, she said, we'll be looking at cutting calendar days this spring. The district would need to slash &

36;752,000, amounting to about nine days out of the school year.

Almost &

36;2 million in cuts already have taken their toll on Central Point schools.

Central Point has cut four elementary positions, an elementary media specialist, 5.5 teachers at the middle schools, seven teachers at the high school and 1.5 administrators.

It also eliminated extra duty pay for coaches, division leaders and others amounting to &

36;150,000. It has ended field trips, except for athletics. And it has cut supplies, a technical position and other support staff.

Central Point Elementary third-grade teacher Jill Eiler had 24 students last year. This year, she has 34.

Ten more students has made it that much more difficult to teach.

I just can't get to them as fast, she said. There is not as much individualized attention.

In Rogue River, superintendent Hellman said he will be meeting with his board to discuss what to do if the income tax measure fails, amounting to a &

36;200,000 cut.

We will not know our funding until the Jan. 28 vote and possibly further with the '03-'05 legislative session.

Greg Lecuyer, finance director for Eagle Point schools, said, I'm disappointed in our legislative process. They claim that education is on the front burner, and it is clear that it isn't.

His district cut &

36;1 million in teachers and support staff this year, and will be looking at another &

36;900,000 cut based on the assumption that the state will never reimburse the payment shift.

The main worry for Lecuyer is the possible failure of Measure 28, which would wipe out another &

36;695,000 from contingencies.

That would bring us down to virtually zero in our fund balance, he said. I think it's unfair that they couldn't balance other than passing a referendum out to the people.

Medford schools are looking at losing &

36;2 million if Measure 28 fails and almost &

36;5 million if the Legislature doesn't reimburse for the payment shift plan.

Galen Anderson, business director for Medford schools, said the district will proceed on a business-as-usual course.

There's no crying in 549c, he said, using the Medford district's number. We're just doing our jobs.

The district hopes the Legislature meets in January and decides to reimburse schools and also adequately fund education. Hopefully, they will perform some kind of miracle, he said.

Anderson does anticipate the district will have to borrow a portion of the &

36;5 million, using &

36;1.5 million to &

36;2 million in contingencies to make up the difference.

Despite his generally optimistic tone, Anderson said that doesn't mean Medford schools haven't suffered, particularly after losing 10 percent of their teachers during the past two years.

Don't think for one second we're not concerned about it, he said. It's just the way we deal with it in this district.

Doug Spani, business manager for Phoenix-Talent schools, said the district already has cut &

36;1 million this year and has lost 15 teaching positions in the past two years, one administrator and one member of its support staff.

If the measure fails in January, his district would be looking at cutting another &

36;500,000, and if the state doesn't reimburse his school next year, it would lose another &

36;1 million.

Everyone has a question in Jill Eiler?s class at Central Point Elementary School Thursday. This year?s class numbers 34, up 10 students from last year because of budget cuts. From front to back are Olivia Byrd, Crystal Taylor and Samantha Crother. Click the photo to see a larger (32k) version. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell