Medford K-12 budget includes deep cuts

The Medford School Board will meet today to adopt an atrophied budget without knowing the full impact of nearly $4 million in cuts.

Under state law, the board must adopt a balanced budget by June 30. It faces a $3.9 million shortfall because of reduced funding from the state.

The school district's budget committee approved a 2010-11 operations budget of $99.3 million in May on the same day Gov. Ted Kulongoski ordered 9 percent cuts at all state-funded agencies, including public schools.

District staff is expected to recommend the board approve a reduced operations budget amount of $95.4 million based on the losses in state funding, said Scott Whitman, the district's financial controller.

The state funding rollback automatically froze district employees' pay as specified in a clause in employee contracts. That saved $1.4 million.

The district still is working out the details of how to make up for another $2.5 million in lost funds, said Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long. That might not be known until August because the district's plan depends largely on what concessions in pay and benefits it can obtain from its employee unions, Long said.

"Before employees return at the end of August, we have to have that resolved because we need to be able to communicate with parents and employees about what we're doing," Long said.

The budget proposal includes the following cutbacks from the initial plan:

  • Reducing employee pay and benefits by $1.8 million;
  • Shifting to the general fund $225,000 in dedicated funds that normally are reserved for items such as textbooks and furniture;
  • Conserving about $100,000 in utility use;
  • Negotiating $100,000 in savings in property and liability insurance by raising the deductible;
  • Reworking student busing to save $75,000;
  • Shaving $30,000 in out-of-district travel;
  • Cutting $20,000 in school supplies.

The district also plans to withdraw $718,300 from its reserve fund to cover the remainder of the shortfall, officials said.

Specifics on how each of those savings would be accomplished — including how to save on employee pay and benefits — still are being developed and may not be known until August, Long said.

District officials said they'll meet with employee unions over the summer to try to come up with an agreement to cut wages and benefits in order to avoid layoffs or furloughs. The district can cut staff or eliminate days without union approval, but cannot change negotiated pay and benefit levels without the unions' agreement.

Employee representatives and district officials met twice this month to begin those discussions.

"What we are trying to do is not cut people," Long said. "We are trying to come up with a way that is doable for a year, and we want to do it collaboratively because our unilateral measures are much harsher."

Among the ideas for reducing benefits costs is finding an incentive for employees with medical problems to use urgent care instead of the emergency room, which costs the district more per visit.

"We are self-insured so we pay full cost as an organization," Long said.

The board convenes to adopt the budget at 5:30 tonight in the cafeteria on the north side of the old South Medford High School, 815 S. Oakdale Ave.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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