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Budget Update: Challenging Times to Come

Message from the superintendent: Oregon school districts anticipate significant funding shortfalls

This has been an exceptionally challenging time for our families, our schools, and our community. We have lost the normalcy of our daily school routines. Our community has lost jobs and businesses. Our nation has lost thousands of lives.

We also have lost the rosy vision of our schools’ financial future. Just a couple of months ago, this vision was nearly in our grasp. After years of disinvestment in Oregon’s educational system, we were expecting to turn the corner with Student Success Act reinvestments in our public schools to support our students to succeed. We had developed a budget plan for the coming year to provide greater supports for our students, based on forecasts of a healthy state budget and full funding for targeted education investments.

Now, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we face a new reality. Oregon’s school buildings are closed, and so are many businesses. More than one-sixth of workers in Oregon have been put out of work. This global crisis will significantly impact tax revenues and publicly funded budgets in the coming months and years. Oregon school districts can expect ongoing economic uncertainty and some very difficult financial times to come.

In a press release issued yesterday, Governor Kate Brown said, “With many Oregon businesses restricted or shut down, travel suspended and jobs lost, we expect the revenue that we receive to fund state services will also be significantly reduced…which will lead to some really difficult decisions. Our early discussions indicated this impact could be a reduction of $3 billion for the current budget period. We are exploring all available options to weather this recession, and I have directed state agencies to prepare prioritized reduction plans equaling a 17 percent reduction for the upcoming fiscal year as a planning exercise to explore all options.”

Eugene School District 4J would see a $17.5 million cut next year if across-the-board cuts are made at this level, with additional budget shortfalls expected in the following years. The anticipated new state investments in school supports are no longer expected to make their way to Oregon’s schools in full, if at all, next school year.

More concrete financial information will come from the state economic forecast report later this month, any special session of the state legislature, and beyond. But we know that whatever the news is, it will not return us to the rosy picture we had such a short time ago.

School districts across Oregon and the U.S. are freezing hiring, slowing spending, implementing furlough days, preparing for layoffs, developing budget contingency plans—and advocating for the state to mitigate impacts and protect school funding as much as possible—all while working to connect, care for and educate our students in our new world of distance learning.

This will be hard. 4J is in a better position than many other school districts facing the same funding cuts. We have had community support and been careful and conservative with finances, so our district has some financial reserves that can help fill the gap in times such as this. Still, there will be impacts for our staff, schools and programs. Please watch for information to come about 4J schools’ financial outlook and how our district will address the coming shortfall.

Our goals will be to, to the extent possible:
– Maintain staffing ratios and class sizes
– Protect current staff and prevent layoffs next year
– Preserve learning time and a full school year

We will look at all options to weather the coming storm and shelter our students and our staff as much as possible. We will leave no door locked, no stone unturned. We all must pull together to keep our school system strong and stable.

During all of this change and uncertainty, one thing remains the same: Our staff, students and families are exceptional. Our community is coming together to support one another and our schools will continue to deliver meaningful education and support to our students.

This experience is testing all of us, but it also serves as a strong reminder that we are a resilient community. We know that together, we can persevere through this pandemic, meet this challenge and grow stronger, together.

Gustavo Balderas
Superintendent
Eugene School District 4J

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