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Gov to schools: Drop dead

Mail Tribune editorial

Kitzhaber's vetoes put education in a can't-win budget situation

Gov. John Kitzhaber is right when he says the Legislature failed miserably in its duty to support education and public services. But he is wrong ' miserably wrong ' to think his vetoes of two revenue options will correct the failings. It will, in fact, make things worse.

Now that the governor has ignored the advice of Oregonians across the state and across the political spectrum, it's up to Democrats in the Legislature to decide if their allegiances lie with their party or their communities.

It seems unfair to Democrats to cast them in the anti-education role, because it was Democrats who made the only real effort during the legislative session to find a long-term solution to education funding. By and large, it was Republican legislators who refused to consider any meaningful revenue changes, instead opting for a smoke-and-mirrors funding scheme that is dubious at best and grossly negligent at worst.

But the Democrats now find the ball in their court, thanks to a governor who is willing to throw our schools to the wolves in the unsupported hope that the Legislature will ride in to the rescue at the last minute.

School administrators and teachers agree with Kitzhaber that the budget is a Band-Aid that doesn't begin to heal the financial wound inflicted on schools in recent years. But they know the Band-Aid is all they are likely to get to stop the bleeding.

And bleeding there will be if Kitzhaber's vetoes are not overturned by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Jackson County school districts ' all of which have cut staff and reduced programs ' will lose &

36;1l million. The Medford School District's share from the governor's red pen is &

36;5 million. Small districts get no break: Rogue River, down 20 percent in its teaching staff from six years ago, faces &

36;556,000 in new cuts.

The pain extends across the state, with a total of &

36;317 million in cuts. The Portland School District, already in desperate straits, will lose &

36;24 million. And in Portland, as in every district in the state, there is scant time to make the cuts before school starts.

Kitzhaber says the vetoes are necessary to avoid pushing an even-bigger financial problem into the next biennium. And he holds out hope that the Legislature will see the real picture and come up with additional revenues.

That seems unlikely to everyone outside of the governor's office. Three special sessions produced mostly gridlock, until both sides of the aisle grudgingly agreed to the combination of cuts, some new revenue and major shifts of expenses into the future. The battle lines are hardened after those sessions and, with an election less than three months away, the anti-tax and anti-school forces are not budging.

So the governor's decisions, unless they are overridden, mean schools, and school children, will suffer enormous hits. Even if the next Legislature responds with meaningful funding changes, it will take years, perhaps decades, to recover from the damage inflicted in 2002-03.

It is possible to be right and wrong at the same time. Gov. Kitzhaber has proven that. Now it is up to our legislators to prove they value our schools more than they value allegiance to their party or to a lame-duck governor.