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Rogue River schools face tough budget decisions

ROGUE RIVER — Rogue River School District officials say they are crunching numbers in the face of bleak state and federal revenue forecasts.

"This is a tough time for everybody in public education," said Harry Vanikiotis, district superintendent. "I don't know when I've ever seen it this precarious."

Vanikiotis said no decisions have been made to balance anticipated revenue shortfalls by cutting days, jobs or programs. All options will be on the table for discussion at the district's School Board meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Rogue River High School library.

"This year no days will be cut. But next year, we're not so sure," Vanikiotis said. "We've been looking at all the possibilities. But we have not made a final recommendation."

State taxes, the main revenue stream for schools, have been hard- hit because of the declining economy. Every tax dollar lost equates to less money for school districts, he said.

"So much is based on property tax revenues," said Vanikiotis.

The next state revenue forecast will be released Friday. Gov. Ted Kulongoski has asked all state departments to prepare 30 percent reductions in their budgets for the next biennium.

The Rogue River district's budget for fiscal year 2008-09 is $12 million, up $1 million from 2007-08. Current enrollment is 1,014, a bump up of about 40 students from what they expected the year before.

The increased enrollment and the sale of a commercially zoned section of property at Rogue River Elementary School gave the district a $2 million general fund surplus for the last biennium. But most of that money has been used to offset expenses and failed interest returns, he said.

"If we had projected, for example, receiving $100,000 of interest, we received only $25,000 or $30,000," Vanikiotis said.

Anticipating the declines in state and federal funding, fluctuations in enrollment and plummeting interest rates on investment bonds makes forecasting a budget challenging, Vanikiotis said.

Incumbent board member Julie Niles-Fry, who will face off against former board member Harry Davis in the May 19 election, said the unanimous decision to hire Vanikiotis as the district's superintendent in July 2007 was a good one.

Several years ago, the district was forced to cut 10 days from its curriculum to balance its budget. Vanikiotis has helped Rogue River schools "get back on track," she said.

"We're working to bring as much to our kids as possible — providing state funding doesn't cut us off at the knees," Niles-Fry said. "No matter what, we're going to educate our kids and do the best we can."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.