Rep. David Gomberg took a seat with a dozen other individuals at a long table set up in the middle of council chambers Saturday at Philomath City Hall to provide his perspectives on the current session of the Oregon Legislature.
The dominant topic of the afternoon revolved around the walkout by Senate Republicans that have stalled the ability to get work done. The Senate has not had a quorum since May 3 and the 160-day legislative session must end by June 25.
“They don’t seem to be any closer to a resolution than they were a month ago,” Gomberg said. “I’m glad that they’re having some negotiations but both sides seem to be dug in on how things are going to work.”
Gomberg explained that the biggest consequence of the stalemate comes down to the approval of a state budget.
“We have passed what we call a continuing resolution, which says basically that the state can continue to operate, it’s not going to shut down, but it will operate at least through the end of September at last year’s budgeted amount,” Gomberg said. “So we will be able to spend in state agencies the amount that we committed to them in the last budget cycle but not the upcoming budget cycle.”
The situation involving public education immediately comes to mind and it’s an issue now being felt in Philomath.
“The current service level for our schools is $9.3 billion for K-12 schools,” Gomberg said. “With the latest revenue forecast, we have planned to increase that to $10.2 (billion), which is the amount that our school administrators and our school boards tell us they need to begin to provide the kind of education that our kids need and deserve.”
Democratic leaders in the Legislature announced May 22 that they had agreed to the record amount on schools to be included in the next two-year budget cycle. The State School Fund is the primary funding source for the state’s 197 school districts and 19 regional education service districts.
“If we can’t get the Senate together, we’re stuck at the old level, not the new level — a billion dollars less,” Gomberg said. “Meanwhile, our school boards are meeting right now and passing school budgets. And to be able to pass a budget, you need to know ‘how much money have we got?’”
Gomberg pointed out that the lower level of funding “means fewer teachers and bigger classes and fewer counselors and a host of other problems” as school boards make plans for the next school year.
“That’s a lot of teachers,” said Pat Malone, Benton County commissioner, who was present at Gomberg’s town hall. “Schools don’t need a lot of paper or computers but it’s in salaries.”
The Philomath School Board meeting last month tabled a “declaration of a reduction in force” agenda item as several teachers in the audience looked on. Beth Edgemon, a Philomath Academy counselor, talked to the board during the public comment period about the prospect of staff cuts as listed in a proposed budget.
“I know personally how it feels to be ripped from a position you love as it happened to me in the beginning of my career in a different school district,” Edgemon said. “I worry about the staff at the Academy who have worked really hard to develop relationships with our students and set up an environment that is community-based, focused on personalized learning and social emotional growth. I fear having a staff that will be cut and then staff from across the district will be piecemeal — a little here or there to cover our classes.”
The situation could also ultimately impact the local school district’s approach to the acceptance of out-of-district students. Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said during the May 18 board meeting that if too many students are given the OK to join the district and the reduction in force occurs, it could create an undue burden on the remaining staff members.
Halliday recommended to the board later in the meeting to not immediately declare the reduction in force because of timing requirements in place to notify the teachers association and all others impacted by the decision.
“With the budget situation, we’re not in a place right now to be able to identify every individual in that situation,” Halliday said. “We’re also trying … to be judicious and thoughtful about how that plays out.”
Gomberg’s town hall in Philomath attracted a modest number, which included the city manager, a city councilor and a county commissioner. Earlier in the day over at the Corvallis library, he said about 50 people were in attendance.