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Phoenix-Talent schools get relief from 2020 fires

The board Thursday approved a special revenue fund for $4.3 million in new state funding to replace money lost from having fewer students

The Phoenix-Talent School District Board created a new fund Thursday to store over $4 million it could use to supplement property tax revenues lost as a result of the 2020 Almeda fire.

A resolution approved by board members says the $4.3 million in grant funding — awarded to the district during the current school year as a result of House Bill 5006 — will be moved to a Special Revenue Fund. Eventually, the new money will be part of the district’s general fund.

”The board is very thankful to the Legislature and the public for supporting and understanding our students' needs by passing and supporting this bill,” Dawn Watson, chairwoman of the board, said Friday.

Passed during the 2021 regular legislative session, HB 5006 allows entities that receive property taxes, which includes school districts, to tap into some of the more than $23 million in grant funding available from the Department of Revenue.

State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said tax revenue normally is “fairly irrelevant to a school district” because it will be made up via funding that schools receive through the state based on student attendance numbers.

But Phoenix-Talent’s attendance numbers dropped as a result of the Almeda fire, which is why Marsh championed legislation, that will allow certain districts to recoup the money it lost per-pupil via grant funding from the Oregon Department of Education.

“The money’s finally being released and finally making its way within the community,” Marsh said.

The Jackson County lawmaker said Phoenix-Talent School board members are “very wise” to use HB 5006’s funds as needed, “since we don’t know what the next few years will bring.”

“We don’t know what things will look like after 2024 and 2025 — we hope all of the children will come back,” Marsh said. “This will give a school district just a little bit of cushion for the unexpected. That seems really smart to me, for them to plan to hold it and use it as they need to.”

Phoenix-Talent School District Superintendent Brent Barry said the board’s resolution makes the special revenue fund possible to hold money there for “lost tax revenue and other costs that will be needed to sustain operations.”

“We originally thought it was going to be disbursed in three-year chunks, so we learned recently that it was going to be awarded all at once — hence the reason we wanted to make sure we got a resolution to make sure we dedicate these funds and assign it to a special revenue fund to be utilized for the reason they awarded it,” Barry said. “It’s very important we’re transparent with why these funds are being awarded, what their uses are, and that they’re sustained over a period of time.”

The superintendent said that some of the $4.3 million will be used to lessen the burden on community taxpayers to help pay off a 2017 bond that helped make things such as a remodel of Phoenix High School possible.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.