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School funding no fun
Pity the poor Baker School Districts budget board.
Because it isnt just the projected $1.8 million shortfall that makes the boards job difficult.
Its the uncertainty of the shortfall, which could just as easily be $1 million, or $800,000, or some other as yet unknown figure.
Even as the board approaches the difficult prospect of trimming the districts budget by more than 10 percent, the governor and the Legislature are tossing about ideas that could lessen the severity of the cuts.
Maybe the state will tap monies from the tobacco settlement, or raise the tax on cigarettes. Maybe the Legislature will levy an emergency income tax on Oregonians, or expand the lottery, or dismantle some other state bureaucracy to save our schools.
That means the state could maybe make up some, or even all, of the projected shortfall, saving the Baker School District from the worst of its plan for the worst-case scenario.
You cant pay the bills with maybes, however, so the budget board must cut as if the money isnt going to materialize.
This is not a surprise development.
Revenues aside, it has been a philosophy of spend until there is nothing left to spend that has eroded the districts reserves down to less than zero. This past year, the district finances actually ended in a deficit.
Rather than forcing austerity on the district in the past, perhaps at a time when they had even one thin dime left to spend, the budget and school boards have consciously decided to spend the district down to the bone.
Now come the difficult choices the district has been putting off for years. And now the district will be able to make the cuts, the philosophy goes, because it has to.
That doesnt mean the public not to mention the teachers and classified staff unions will go along willingly.
Heres where it gets really thorny, you see.
School financing is a complex subject. The equation for school aid in Oregon adds to one column say, increased timber receipts only to subtract from another.
With the grand uncertainty of the states funding hanging over their heads, the budget board must cut for a worst-case scenario.
But even as it does, those cuts must be prioritized, because they may not all have to come to pass the state might come up with money the district at present does not anticipate receiving.
Or, the state might not.
If lawmakers do find a way, however, and if the deficit does come in at $1.2 million instead of $1.8 million, youll need time lapse photography to catch the onset of the finger pointing.
Its happened before: Money magically materializes after the district has pleaded poverty in pursuit of a bond levy, or in negotiating a new teaching contract. The impression of having been cheated sets in, only the public blames the district, not our states heavily bandaged school funding scheme.
No, the only magic is in the beans being counted in Salem, of course, and they have yet to sprout.