'Challenging times to come,' 4J leaders say as budget shortfall looms

Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the cuts come after Gov. Kate Brown announced an expected $3 billion loss in state revenue.

Posted: May 12, 2020 7:38 PM
Updated: May 13, 2020 6:24 PM

EUGENE, Ore -- Major budget cuts are on it's way for school districts across the state, including Eugene School District 4J.

Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the cuts come after Gov. Kate Brown announced an expected $3 billion loss in state revenue.
She is telling state agencies to prepare for a 17% reduction.

RELATED: OREGON FACES $3 BILLION BUDGET SHORTFALL, GOV. BROWN SAYS

Balderas said the district would see a $17.5 million cut next year if across-the-board reductions are made at this level, with additional budget shortfalls expected in the following years. On top of that, he said they don't know if they will receive funds from the Student Success Act next year.

"It's a $31 million swing from the positive to the negative," Balderas said. "It's a huge hit."

Balderas said the dollar amount could change and they are waiting for more concrete financial information from the state. The 4J budget committee is set to meet on May 20. They plan to finalize the budget, but Balderas said they will have to update it this summer once they know more.

"We talk about our north stars and our north stars are having a full school year for our kids and keeping everybody who is employed employed," Balderas said.

He said voter-approved bond construction measures like the new North Eugene High School are still on track but said the board will be looking at some programs including Corridor Elementary. Corridor is an alternative school that had nearly 150 students in January. It's located at the site where the district plans to build the high school. Corridor students were set to move to a wing in the old high school after it was renovated. over the summer.  

Balderas said he has asked the board to discuss the future of the program and the move at their May 20 meeting as they look to cut costs.

Caitlin Alcorn has one child that goes to Corridor and hopes to have another enrolled next school year. Now she's worried she will have to enroll her kids somewhere else.

"You can't get some of these things back," Alcorn said. "If Corridor doesn't exist after this budget cycle, it won't exist ever again."

A 4J spokeswoman said they hope to reopen schools on normal schedules in the fall, but what that looks like will depend in part on the public health situation and statewide restrictions for our community's health. They are planning for a variety of possibilities.

Balderas sent the following letter to 4J families:

Budget Update: Challenging Times to Come

Dear families,

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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