Short of legislative intervention, public schools in Grant County face funding shortfalls in school year 2002-2003 due to failure of Measure 28 on Jan. 28.

"I don't see any silver lining in this one," said Newell Cleaver, Grant District No. 3 superintendent.

District No. 3 administrators have halted purchasing except for emergencies. The district will dip into a contingency fund for gymnasium bleacher repairs due to liability concerns, Cleaver said. The district will absorb a $75,000 reduction from the fifth special session of the Oregon Legislature as well as the $160,000 shortfall from the failed tax referral. Both gaps will appear in this school year's budget. The audited beginning fund balance for this year was $878,215, a safety net within the district's $7.29 million budget. That safety net will take a beating due to the revenue drops, Cleaver said. The district is looking at a projected beginning fund balance for 2003-2004 of $348,000, due both to the loss in revenue and rollup costs from fixed expenditures.

"We're going to be burning the midnight oil to figure out how to put the budget together and protect any kind of fund balance," Cleaver said.

School board members will get used to holding meetings in the next few months. Next regular meeting of the school board is 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12. The board will hold its monthly meeting for March on Wednesday, March 12, at Mt. Vernon Middle School; then, the board will regroup for a special meeting, tentatively set for Wednesday, March 19. An April 2 special work session has been canceled. The board will meet Wednesday, April 16, at Seneca School.

"We want to try and avoid layoff, but that's not out of the picture. This thing could get to the point where we have no choice but to get to layoff which could include looking at all of our staff, licensed, unlicensed. That's our last resort," Cleaver said.

Right now, retirements are escalating statewide due to concerns that legislators will retool the liability-ridden Oregon Public Employees Retirement System. Grant School District No. 3 will focus on attrition, or the budget-driven decision not to fill vacated positions.

There are no untapped capital expenditure funds, Cleaver said.

"We're bare bones on our transportation and bus replacement," he said.

"The things we can't control include the enrollment. If there's any good news at all, it's that our enrollment has been stable," he added.

A loss of 50 students costs more than $20,000 in state funding.

In Prairie City School District No. 4, the problems of losing $50,000 from the failure of Measure 28 are compounded by a budgetary process that allowed overspending during the past three school years.

The budget crisis for the Prairie City School District began during the 2000-01 school year when the district spent $429,839 more than what was received in income, according to information from the school. This cut the balance in the school fund by more than half from $738,230 down to $308,391. During the 2001-02 school year, the district once again overspent, this time by $269,244.

Faced with a $139,000 shortfall, trustees balked at a plan by superintendent Gene Mills to eliminate an existing half day of instruction on Fridays. However, the school board continues to wrestle with its budgets for the current year, 2002-2003, and for next year, 2003-2004.

It's a frustrating budget cycle for superintendents.

"I think we're taking a huge step backward in this state right now," Cleaver said. "My sense is we're going to see the damage done before we can get those who are in the middle of this argument to wake up and say, 'Whoa.'"

REVENUE FALLOUT HITS LOCAL SCHOOLSGrant County school districts face varying shortfalls to budgeted revenue as a result of the failure of Measure 28, the Jan. 28 tax referral. The estimated drop is $145 per weighted average daily membership. ADM(w) is an enrollment-based formula factored by student enrollment and spending need per student. The state-announced spending reductions include:

• Dayville (District No. 16J)-$24,000

• John Day (District No. 3)-$160,000

• Long Creek (District No. 17)-$27,000

• Monument (District No. 8)-$25,000

• Prairie City (District No. 4)-$50,000

SOURCE: School administrators

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