Eugene, Ore., school district faces $16M budget gap

Officials: If union declines wage deal, class size may grow

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EUGENE, Ore. — The Eugene School District wants wage concessions from teachers because of a projected $16 million budget gap.

As many as 20 teachers could lose their jobs because of the budget problems, district officials say, and that number could nearly double if the teachers union does not accept wage concessions. Under the proposed staffing cuts, about 40 percent of elementary class sizes would have more than 30 students. For high schools and middle schools, about 60 percent of classes would have more than 30 students.

The news comes as the administration meets with union representatives about a new contract to replace the one that expires June 30.

The budget gap persists despite an expected $10 million increase in funding from the state and slight boost in enrollment.

District administrators said to operate the school system in 2013-14, including paying for expected higher compensation, the district will need $157 million, but predicts it will receive $141 million in general fund revenues.

More than 80 percent of the district's spending goes toward paying staff salaries and benefits.

Even with more state per-pupil funding and an estimated $707,408 increase from the enrollment boost, district officials say they still will fall short of the money it needs.

"There is no easy place to cut," district Financial Officer Simone Sangster said.

Concessions discussed with the teachers union include unpaid time off, whether employees would get annual cost-of-living increases, increased cost sharing for health care benefits and annual contractual "step" salary increases for school employees.

Each furlough day -- when schools are closed and workers get an unpaid day off -- saves the district about $475,000, Superintendent Sheldon Berman said. The district could save nearly $2.5 million if employees agreed to five furlough days.

"We can quickly add money that way," Berman said.

Furlough days, however, don't appeal to the teachers union. A full school year for an administrator is about 260 working days. For teachers, it's 191 working days.

"It's less of a hit for administrators," Tad Shannon, Eugene Education Association president, said. "We should share the burden proportionately."