Local state lawmakers and education advocates on Saturday called for government restructuring at the state and local levels in order to balance the state's shrinking budget while still meeting the needs in education, health, human services and public safety.
Nearly 100 people, including lawmakers, school board members, educators and parents, gathered at Medford's Central Branch Library for an education summit organized by Stand for Children, an education advocacy group.
Organizers held the event to both inform them about the state's budget crisis and to seek ideas about ways to restructure government at the state level and inside school districts.
State Reps. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, co-chairmen of the Legislature's Joint Ways & Means Committee, who headed up a panel discussion at Saturday's summit, said the state is an estimated $3.5 billion short of providing enough funding to continue existing services. The shortage stems from persistent unemployment and the resulting loss of income-tax revenues.
"We have no choice but to restructure," Buckley said.
As co-chairs of Ways & Means, the two Southern Oregon lawmakers will have significant influence on the state's budget.
They said they hope for a bipartisan approach to restructuring. The Oregon House is divided precisely in half between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties and Gov. John Kitzhaber are in chorus over the need for restructuring. How that will be accomplished has not been determined.
An example of where the state could restructure is in programs for children ages 5 years and younger, Buckley said.
"We have eight different agencies that deliver those services," Buckley said. "We have to restructure. We have to take away eight levels of administration."
Richardson said the state also needs to revise the way it forecasts for revenue. Forecasts have been chronically optimistic, he said, forcing school districts and other agencies to, in essence, return money through the "kicker" that was promised to them. He said he's uncertain how that can be accomplished, but one idea is to bring in other economists to give secondary opinions and to be more conservative in calculations.
The statewide deficit is expected to translate locally into $10 million to $14 million in cuts from the Medford School District's $90 million budget, which serves about 12,300 pupils. Similar funding losses are projected at other public school districts around the state.
Medford school officials will continue to solicit input from the public on their priorities for education spending at three upcoming 90-minute forums:
- 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, North Medford High School, 1900 N. Keene Way Drive, Medford
- 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, Roosevelt Elementary School, 112 Lindley St., Medford
- 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8, South Medford High School, 1551 Cunningham Ave., Medford
More information about the Medford School District budget is available at www.medford.k12.or.us.
Stand for Children organizers will hold a rally on the Capitol steps at noon Monday, Feb. 21, to urge lawmakers to allocate as much funding as possible to education in the next biennial budget, said Dana Hepper, Stand for Children's advocacy director.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail email@example.com.