Governor talks economic reality to school boards

“In some respects this speech has been my most difficult,” said Governor Kulongoski at the conclusion of his address Nov. 14 to the Oregon School Boards Association state convention.

The statement came as he said his commitment to education was unbending. “My top priority remains education and children’s health,” said the governor. He gave those attending the conference what he called a realistic, though difficult, picture of the state’s economics.

“We will move forward but it will be an uphill climb. We will do it without delving into the education stabilization fund or the rainy day fund,” said Kulongski. And he went ahead to explain the reason. He said the September revenue report showed the state with a $500 million 08-09 shortfall and almost no ending fund balance. The next report will be Nov. 19 and the indicators are for another decline. He said it is prudent to hold on to those funds until the 2010 session. The current budget must balance and currently it appears there is a good chance it will be in the red. Oregon cannot operate, by law, in the red.

Kulongoski said he met last week with state Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo asking that the $130 million in school improvement funds distribution be delayed until there is a clearer budget picture. “I am opposed to new mandates without resources,” which drew a large applause from school board and administrative members.  He made the statement as he noted he was aware of the price tag new graduation requirements will impose on districts.  He said he was going to have conversation with the Oregon Department of Education about stretching the timeline for the new graduation requirements, with the understanding that districts would continue to plan for the change and be ready when the economy turned around.    

He asked that districts remember the uncertain economic times as they are involved in negotiations. “Bargaining agreements that don’t take into account budget realities will lead to nothing but frustration, disappointment and renegotiations down the road,” cautioned the governor.

“By managing prudently, we can move forward. We can’t tell kids to be patient and wait for a better day,” said Kulongoski.

“The governor showed real leadership and affirmative action in his presentation,” said District 9 Board Chairman Jonathan Bilden, as he was contacted after the speech. “He showed us we need to hold the line. We have to all work together and be prudent. And the governor admitted the across the board process of making cuts in 2003 was not to his liking.” Bilden said the district needs to work in a manner that will not require years to recoup what is lost.

Several members of the District 9 Board of Directors and some administrative staff were at the annual convention in Portland last weekend.
By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent.

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