Furloughs to save money for district

Sean C. Morgan

Anticipating a revenue shortfall next year, the Sweet Home School Board decided Monday night, May 18, to take four furlough days this year to save money for next school year while using the Oregon Work Share program to ensure employees receive unemployment benefits during those days.

The board held a special meeting by a video conference Monday evening to consider tapping into Oregon Work Share and whether to approve furlough days this year.

“I’m proud of the School Board, our union groups, our classified and teachers and the district,” Supt. Tom Yahraes told The New Era. “We all worked together to activate the Work Share option so that we can furlough days this year to advance funding to next year and help protect school days and programming for students as well as jobs for our staff.

“We did this ahead of what by all accounts will be a very bleak May 20 forecast.”

Sweet Home could see a funding shortfall of more than $2 million next school year, Yahraes said.

The Work Share program helps public and private organizations maintain jobs and avoid laying off employees, allowing employees to work 20 to 40 percent less, one or two days per week, and receive unemployment benefits for those days. Those receiving benefits will also receive $600 per week in federal funds from the CARES Act, a coronavirus relief package approved by congress and the president.

Under this plan, with agreement by the unions, Sweet Home School District will go to a four-day week through the end of the school year beginning this week, Yahraes said. Through July 31, the district will continue to furlough year-round employees one day per week.

That includes the superintendent, principals and some support staff, he said. Some employees are not eligible for Work Share, often because they work less than .75 full-time equivalent. They will continue to work their regular schedules.

The district will make adjustments to ensure that graduation continues as planned on June 5, which is a Friday, Yahraes said; and food services will adjust schedules to continue providing meals five days a week.

“By taking furlough days this year under distance learning, it will have less of an impact because we’ll be trading distance for in-class learning,” Yahraes said. Face-to-face in-class school is a higher value setting.

Under the current distance learning model, for example, returned assignments sit for three days in quarantine before teachers touch them, Yahraes said. That means feedback is slower.

Face-to-face in-class education provides “live, immediate feedback,” he said. “Statistically, timely feedback is superior for learning.”

While the district is budgeting based on the state’s basic school funding level, $9 billion statewide, district officials expect that source of revenue to be lower next year. Prior to the scheduled May 20 revenue forecast by the state, they were anticipating more than $2 million in a possible revenue shortfall. Reductions could be offset at some level by the new Corporate Activities Tax, which was slated to expand programming, funding from the CARES Act and the state’s rainy day fund.

The district’s budget committee approved a total budget of $45.6 million and a General Fund budget of $26.4 million.

If funding falls short, staffing will bear the brunt of any reductions in state funding, he said. More than 80 percent of the General Fund budget consists of labor costs. Many remaining expenses, such as property and liability insurance premiums, cannot be reduced.

The schools cost about $88,000 per day in variable costs to operate, he said. To make up a $2 million funding shortfall, the district would need to take 23 furlough days.

The average cost of a full-time equivalent employee is approximately $75,000, including benefit costs, he said. At that amount, the district would need to lay off 27 FTE to make up a $2 million shortfall.

That reduction in number of employees is likely to be even higher, Yahraes said, because those with the least seniority and lowest payroll costs would be laid off first.

Present at the meeting were Joe Kennedy, Jim Gourley, Jason Van Eck. Chanz Keeney, Mike Reynolds, Chairman Jason Redick and Debra Brown. Angela Clegg and Jenny Daniels were absent.