Medford School District faces unknowns as budget process starts

With the funding level for Oregon's K-12 education still under consideration by the Oregon Legislature, Jackson County's largest school district is preparing for the worst- and best-case funding scenarios for the upcoming biennium.

Medford School District Superintendent Phil Long said that depending on how education is funded within the state budget, the district could need to cut millions over the next biennium, or it could have an opportunity to finally build back some of the reductions made over the past several years.

"We're sort of at this tipping point one way or another," Long said.

While Gov. John Kitzhaber originally forecasted $6.15 billion in education funding for the next biennium, educators across the state believe the number likely will be at least $6.3 billion.

Both numbers are higher than the $5.75 billion that education received in the 2011-13 biennium, but as costs of state Public Employee Retirement System pensions continue to skyrocket, even a $6.3 billion budget would mean districts across the state would take a hit.

"At $6.3 billion, and without PERS reform, we would have to do cuts," said Long. "At that point we would have to make some hard choices."

Hundreds of millions of dollars in PERS reform would have to take place for the Medford School District to receive enough money to forgo cuts or spending reserves.

The district is holding a town hall meeting for the public to learn more about the upcoming biennium budget at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the North Medford High School Commons, 1900 N. Keene Way Drive, Medford.

The Medford School Board and the district budget committee hope to gather input from community members for building the 2013-14 district budget.

Participants will work in small groups and be given a chance to provide feedback to the district budget committee and district officials.

If the state education funding level remains at $6.3 billion, the Medford School District would plan to make about $1.5 million in cuts next year, or $3 million over the biennium, and spend down some of its roughly $8 million in reserves.

Last year, the district budget committee elected to spend up to $4 million of its $11 million in reserves to avoid making budget cuts, but ended up spending less.

"We're in better fiscal shape than many districts in our area," Long said.

During Wednesday's forum, Long said the district hopes to hear input on building the upcoming budget from parents, and raise awareness of the inadequate funding level for education in Oregon.

Long said he hopes the Legislature makes a final decision on education funding by mid-March, in time for the district to make a proposed budget, which is usually presented to the budget committee for review in early April.

—Teresa Ristow

Share This Story