Superintendent warns school cuts coming locally

A frustrating aura of déjà vu settled over the Medford schools budget committee meeting Tuesday night hours after the district learned an additional $5 million in cuts are needed to plug a gap caused by decreased state revenue.

This is the fourth time in five bienniums the district is burdened with emergency cuts in the middle of a budget cycle, Medford School District Superintendant Phil Long said.

"It does get frustrating," Long said. "Especially when you're dealing with kids' lives and those of your employees."

The committee learned of the across-the-board cuts in state spending ordered by Gov. Ted Kulongoski hours before the budget meeting.

The governor announced state spending must be chopped 9 percent for the rest of the current budget period after state economists said the revenue forecast dropped by $500 million. The shortfall came from higher job losses and lower income tax returns gathered this year, according to The Associated Press.

This means the Medford School District will need to trim an already lean budget by $5 million, Long said.

The committee approved the proposed 2010-2011 budget of $99.3 million Tuesday night with full knowledge that it will be reduced by the $5 million over the next 3 to 6 weeks, Long said.

"We have to have an adopted budget by June 30," Long said.

The budget committee did recommended that the School Board make an attempt in the coming weeks to restore middle school chorus and increase elementary music education to one hour each week.

However, there is no guarantee the music program will be restored in the face of such steep cuts.

The elementary music program was proposed for elimination last year, but the School Board ultimately jettisoned that plan after a public outcry and rush of petitions in support of saving it.

A number of parents and teachers spoke before the committee Tuesday night, hoping to add music teachers and additional instruction hours. They cited research suggesting music comprehension in a student's early years raise reading and math scores.

The School Board will have a tough time finding the extra $480,000 in the budget to fund the music program in the face of the emergency cuts.

"There is no more money," Long said. "We are going to have to make reductions in the next month."

Long said the district has $7 million in an emergency fund it will have to tap, but he was wary of draining the fund to plug the $5 million gap.

"If we use most of the emergency fund, it could leave us vulnerable next year," Long said. "We very well could face more cuts very soon. The state's high unemployment rate is going to affect revenue for a long time."

The district could attack the budget gap by reducing employee wages or instituting raise freezes. The goal is to keep people employed and avoid layoffs, Long said.

Long wanted to make it clear that nothing has been set in stone.

"We have hard choices to make over the next month," Long said. "All we know is this has to be sorted out by June 30, which is not far away."

The district's budget shrank by $10 million this year, from $101.7 million in 2008-09 to $91.7 million, because of the economy's impact on state funding for education and other state services. New income tax and business tax measures restored some of those funds.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 15 at South Medford High School and will likely adopt the budget at the same meeting.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail him at

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