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School budget hearing not all grim.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

In a welcome deviation from the norm, there was some good news for the Eugene School District's budget committee and its audience Monday.

For starters, the district's beloved 55-year-old radio station, KRVM, will be on the air next year, though it will have to support itself entirely through underwriting, donations and grants.

And thanks to a whopper of a math mistake, the district isn't expecting as large a deficit in the next biennium as once feared. The projected $8.4 million gap is more like $6.5 million, thanks to a correction in the district's calculation of the per-pupil dollars for the 2004-05 school year.

There were even hopeful words about the Public Employees Retirement System rate, which a few months ago appeared to be headed through the roof. Current legislation in Salem could actually lower the current rate for public agencies.

But still, Superintendent George Russell's overall budget message was grim.

On the heels of punishing, recession-driven cuts in the current biennium, the proposed 2003-04 general fund budget does away with more than 24 central service jobs, including computer specialists, painters, a budget analyst and a multicultural coordinator, saving $1.4 million. It also dips into reserves for $700,000, taking those funds below the school board's stated comfort level.

The budget also delays a $650,000 transfer from the district's general fund to pay for new equipment and textbooks.

Altogether, the reductions total $2.7 million, and the district believes it will need to cut another $3.8 million in 2004-05.

While inflation, burgeoning special education needs and scheduled pay and benefit increases have driven up costs, next year's $115.5 million operating budget is $4.5 million less than the current year's, and $7.6 million less than in 2001-02.

Finance Director Hillary Kittleson pointed out that the district is in better shape than many, thanks to a five-year property tax levy passed in 2000 and a city youth levy approved last November.

"It's really important I think to remember if we did not have the local option levy and the city levy, you could add $10 million to any of those figures," she said.

The budget is built on a $4.8 billion K-12 state spending level - close to recent proposals floated by Gov. Ted Kulongoski and legislative leaders.

Board member Anette Spickard questioned whether that was overly optimistic, given what the May state revenue forecast could portend.

"I think the $4.8 billion is a pretty good place to be right now," Russell said. "Hopefully, all it will do is get better."

However, the budget also assumes no increase whatsoever in employee compensation - a proposal unpalatable and possibly unacceptable to the certified and classified employee unions, both of which are negotiating new contracts with the district.

Russell briefed the committee on organizational changes at the central office necessitated by staff reductions. For example, Jim Slemp, assistant superintendent for policy and administration, will become the head of high school operations and education support, which includes special education.

He queried committee members on which one or two central office positions they might wish to add back, should that be possible. The top choice was communications coordinator, a job held by Kelly McIver. Several people said that communicating with the Legislature, the public and the media is especially critical in a tough budget climate, and is too much for the department director to handle alone.

Monday's audience numbered about 15, many of them supporters of KRVM radio. The station's main studio is at Sheldon High School, with satellite studios at other schools. Students gain broadcasting and engineering experience on the FM station, while the AM station is leased to Jefferson Public Radio.

The district spends about $100,000 a year on the station, most of it for station manager Carl Sundberg's pay and benefits. Other funding sources include contributions from listeners, underwriting and grant money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. One of the conditions for that grant -$70,000 this year - is that the station have five full-time employees.

Sundberg came up with a plan that does away with that CPB grant, enabling the station to reduce its staff to 2.8 full-time-equivalent employees.

KRVM's proposed budget would go from $428,200 to $293,000, with no district support.

Since news of its possible shutdown, the station has been inundated with donations and offers to volunteer, Sundberg said. He's optimistic the station can keep up a higher level of support.

"This way we'll go away only if our listeners get tired of us," he said.


The budget committee will meet again on May 19. It may approve the draft budget then or do so at a later date.
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Title Annotation:The Eugene district factors in job cuts and reserve hits, but also a significantly smaller shortfall in funding; Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 29, 2003
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