Central Point Schools Superintendent Randy Gravon and other area superintendents met Wednesday to discuss the recent cut in state funding. Central Point had hoped to restore five-day school weeks, but now will have to reassess its plans. - Bob Pennell

Budgets on hold

Responding to news of across-the-board cuts in state spending, local school superintendents held an emergency meeting Wednesday to brainstorm ways to cope with the loss of millions in state funding just one year after a shortfall forced layoffs and reduced school days.

"We are commiserating," said Central Point schools Superintendent Randy Gravon after the meeting in downtown Medford. "We are pooling our understanding of what the implications are. This is something we anticipated in the 2011-2013 biennium. It came sooner than we anticipated."

The 9 percent cuts announced Tuesday by Gov. Ted Kulongoski have complicated and likely derailed some of the larger school districts' labor contracts, budget approvals and school calendars. With $12 million in reductions targeted for Jackson County schools alone, layoffs, furloughs, shortened school years and other cutbacks could be on the way.

The Central Point district had been poised to approve a school calendar that would have restored five-day school weeks when the news came Tuesday that the district would lose $1.8 million in state funding, Gravon said.

"I think everything has to be frozen at this point until we know the implications of this on staffing and school days," he said.

He said Central Point shifted to a four-day week this year because the district's priority was to save jobs — which, ironically, fuel the state's budget through income taxes.

"We will keep jobs as a high priority because it's crucial for the economy, but we also have to consider what's best for kids," Gravon said.

He said the district would consult with its employee unions before making a decision on what to cut.

The assembled superintendents discussed the funding cuts at an emergency meeting at the Southern Oregon Education Service District in downtown Medford. Howard George, ESD business manager, said one of the superintendents suggested the meeting to swap ideas.

"Information is still coming out," George said. "This just hit us."

Local superintendents said it would take at least a week or two to come up with proposals for cuts.

"The cuts are not as bad as last year, but it's challenging nonetheless," said Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro. "Good decisions take time. We need to move quickly, but we also need to be careful."

Many districts, including Medford, will meet with employee unions before moving forward on specific cuts.

"Personally, I don't think laying off employees is a good idea," said Cheryl Lashley, a Medford teachers union spokeswoman. "That's why we are in this situation. Layoffs just perpetuate the problem."

The cut levels for K-12 education are set in stone, although Kulongoski said opening up the budget for piecemeal cuts was unlikely. Republicans in the state Legislature have called for a special session to cut specific items in the budget rather than an across-the-board cut, in order to reduce the blow to schools. While Democrats have majorities in both houses of the Legislature, Republicans could force a special session, and some Democrats could be swayed to reduce cuts to education.

There's also hope that Congress will send states money to help with shortfalls, and Kulongoski has said that money, if realized, would be directed toward schools and human services.

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

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