By Leslie Pugmire Hole
It will be more than two months before the Redmond School District Budget Committee sees a proposed budget for the 2014-15 school year, but during a workshop on Wednesday, the committee got a glimpse into the future.
“I’m not an economist but all the indicators are moving in the right direction,” Fiscal Director Kathy Steinert told the committee. “Our long-range plan shows no contraction in state funding.”
It’s the portion of the state budget dedicated to K-12 schools — currently 39.5 percent — that has the Redmond district a bit concerned. That number has steadily declined from 44.8 percent 10 years ago. If it remains flat by 2015, when nearly all Oregon districts will incur increased expenses because of the implementation of full-day kindergarten, there will be less funding overall.
While Senate Bill 248 does not require districts to begin full-day kindergarten, nearly all plan to move in that direction because it’s the right thing to do, Superintendent Mike McIntosh said. Assessments show few kindergartners are fully prepared for first grade, he added, and more classroom time may alleviate that problem.
The irony, Steinert said, is the new legislation will — for the first time — provide a full per-student allotment for kindergarten students. Because if the total amount of the state school fund is not increased, the transition just means more students sharing the same pool of money.
The state, Steinert continued, has not said if it plans to bump K-12 funding to compensate for increased numbers of students.
“It sounds simple — just keep them all day — but it’s more complex than that,” McIntosh said. Finding seats for an average of 225 more students is one problem that the district is addressing in part by advising Redmond Proficiency Academy — a charter school currently leasing the district’s Hartman school building — to start looking for new digs. But money to reopen the school, populate it with staff and pay them will be a big hit to district coffers if the state declines to give a bigger slice of the pie to K-12 schools, McIntosh said.
“We think there’s an inherent value in offering full-day kindergarten, but the water hasn’t reached that bridge yet,” he said, adding that while the district is moving in the direction of increasing the school day for kindergartners in 2015, the decision is not final.
“We’re trying to stay focused on sustainability,” McIntosh said. “We don’t want to initiate something today that we will have to cut tomorrow. But if we wait until we know all the facts about funding, we’ll be way behind the planning curve.”
Steinert estimates that Oregon schools would need to receive a minimum of 44 percent of the state budget to cover the additional kindergarten students in a cost-neutral manner. For Redmond, more students without more funding could mean a hit of more than $2 million in 2015.
“We’re looking at this early enough to begin rallying support for more funding and get help from our legislators,” she said.
An early analysis of tax revenues for the end of 2013 came in about $800 million above state forecasters’ predictions, and the Oregon Department of Education reported this week the surplus would free up $98 million for Oregon school districts, including approximately $680,000 for the Redmond School District.
Redmond officials this week said the extra $680,000 could help the district hire a director of technology and innovation, or they may set aside money to help fund all-day kindergarten.
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