OSBA director pleased with brighter budget picture

Written by Dick Mason, The Observer October 09, 2013 02:10 pm

Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, left, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, discussed the results of the recent legislative special session at an Eastern Oregon University student government retreat on Tuesday. (Dick Mason/The Observer)
Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, left, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, discussed the results of the recent legislative special session at an Eastern Oregon University student government retreat on Tuesday. (Dick Mason/The Observer)
 

What a difference two years makes.

Few people appreciate this more than Betsy Miller-Jones, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. Jones and other OSBA members are pleased with the increase in funding the Legislature has provided to schools for the 2013-15 biennium. Schools are set to receive $6.5 billion over the next two years. 

This is a jump of $1 billion from the 2011-13 biennium. 

“It is big step, a huge step. We are definitely moving forward,” said Miller-Jones, who was in La Grande on Monday and Tuesday to speak on behalf of the OSBA.

The total funding package was boosted last week when the Legislature passed House Bill 5101. The legislation added $100 million to the 2013-15 budget for Oregon public schools.

Miller-Jones is pleased with the passage of HB 5101, but Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, who also was in
La Grande Tuesday, has reservations about it. Jenson stressed that schools will have to be careful with how they spend their share of the $100 million. Jenson explained there is no guarantee that they will continue to receive those funds beyond 2015.

“My major concern with the bill is that it provides one-time funding,” said Jenson, who spoke at a student government retreat Tuesday. “A revenue stream was not established.’’

Despite this concern, there is no denying that the $100 million provided by the bill is brightening the fiscal picture of Oregon schools. The budget outlook for Oregon schools was also boosted during the special session by reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System. Legislation passed during the session will reduce cost of living increases retirees on PERS will receive, significantly reducing the rate of increase of the annual payments school districts have to make into the PERS system over the long term.

“It will flatten the cost curve,” said Alex Pulaski, the OSBA’s communications specialist.

Miller-Jones said that the PERS reform, coupled with the $100 million in additional funding for schools, meant the special session turned out about as well as it could have for Oregon schools. 

“Last week was a real home run,” she said.

Despite the brighter budget picture, Miller-Jones said there is still work to be done. She noted that the school funding level for 2013-15, when adjusted for inflation, is short of what it was about 10 years ago when the state began making cutbacks because of revenue shortfalls.