TOUGH DECISIONS AHEAD FOR DISTRICT

March 15, 2002 12:00 am

By SCOTT GRAVES

The Brookings-Harbor School Board Monday faced the painful reality that it may have to cut programs, and even lay off employees, next school year because of an anticipated revenue shortfall.

?This is a difficult discussion and we knew it was coming, and now it?s here,? said Board member Larry Anderson.

Even so, the district still doesn?t know exactly how bad the deficit will be because the state Legislature and the governor have yet to agree on a budget.

?We?re reporting as quickly and accurately as we can considering the uncertainty of the state budget crisis,? District Superintendent Paul Prevenas told the board.

?Things have changed dramatically and even improved, but remember the numbers we?re giving you tonight are still our best guesses,? he said.

District Business Manager Valerie Shapton shared with the board the latest projections from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) as to how much money the district may get from the state.

Although the Oregon budget isn?t final yet, state law requires that ODE release an estimate this month so school districts can begin their budget process for the 2002-03 school year.

The amount given for Brookings-Harbor School District was $11.8 million, about $180,000 more than estimated in January.

But Shapton warned the board, saying, ?I received an e-mail from the state school board association saying that nobody should take this number to the bank.?

Based on that number, the district is looking at a $1,023,000 gap between revenue and expenditures.

Adding to the confusion, Prevenas said, are two ballot measures tentatively scheduled to go before Oregon voters in May. The measures will ask voters to authorize the state to dip into the Common School Fund reserve to fund public schools in 2002-03.

Board member Bill Ferry, who attended a recent meeting of school board members in Salem, said the Oregon School Board Association and other school-related organizations have already stated they will oppose the measures because they are fiscally irresponsible.

But the school district can?t wait for the measures to be voted on, Prevenas said.

?We must bring a budget to the school board for approval before the measures go to the voters,? he said. ?What I?m asking from the board tonight is some direction on how you want us to proceed.?

One small bit of good news, he said, was that the district will receive $600,000 more from the state for the current year than originally thought.

Shapton reported Monday that the additional funding will result in a $1.3 million carry over into the 2002-03 school year. The district was originally expecting a carry over of approximately $700,000.

The question put to the board Monday was whether to use some of that $1.3 million in carry over to offset the anticipated $1,023,000 shortfall next year.

Traditionally, the district uses the cash carry over to pay for payroll and expenses during the period between receiving a state check on May 15 and the next one on Aug. 15.

?We?ve always taken great pride in having enough carry over in the bank to meet expenses while waiting for the state check to arrive,? said Board member Jeanne Sever.

Board member Larry Anderson agreed, pointing out that the state auditor recommends the school district?s cash carry over should be at least 10 percent of its overall budget, or about $1.3 million.

Prevenas said ?Ten percent may be unrealistic considering the state?s current budget crisis. There are not many school districts in the state who will achieve 10 percent.?

He added, ?Does the board want to have an increased cash carry over at the cost of cutting staff positions??

Anderson said, ?I recommend we maintain this 10 percent balance like we have in the past. It?s going to be tough, but we need to do it.?

Prevenas told the board, ?It?s going to be tough to come up with $1 million in cuts without cutting through some priority programs. I need some direction from the the board as to what to do.?

The board members agreed to leave the cash carry over alone and instructed Prevenas and Shapton to come up with other options.

?What I?m hearing from the board is to plan a budget based on conservative numbers and keep the cash carry over at 10 percent,? Prevenas said. ?What I?m hearing is that we will make some tough decisions this coming year so its not as bad next year.?

The board agreed with his assessment.

Prevenas than asked if the board wanted him to pursue ?aggressive ways? of raising revenue for next year. That may include charging people to use school facilities for after school and weekends sports and students who ride the bus, he said.

The board said he should. Anderson added, ?I hope the administration, the teachers? union and the budget committee can come up with revenue-generating options that we?re not utilizing now.

?It would be prudent to look at extra-curricular activity expenses,? he said. ?There?s going to have to be some rearranging of expenditures to meet the revenue deficit.?

Prevenas said, ?It?s a daunting task to balance the budget and be equitable. No matter what the options, there will be winners and losers.?

Anderson agreed, saying ?It?s going to be a difficult challenge for the business office.?

Prevenas said he has been meeting with representatives of the teachers? union, the Brookings-Harbor Education Association, to develop strategies in dealing with anticipated revenue shortfall. Two of those representatives were at Monday?s meeting.

?The association is taking a very proactive approach to the budget shortfall,? Prevenas said.

?We will work to develop a plan to balance the budget for next year.?