Area school officials fidget with their calculators awaiting the legislative session Friday concerning Gov. John Kitzhaber's vetoes to school funding.
School days, staff and programs could dwindle in kindergarten through college if the Legislature upholds the vetoes in a fourth special session beginning Friday.
"I agree in principal with the governor," said Janet Babbitt, a Clatsop Community College administrative assistant who wrote to local legislators requesting an override. "It's just the timing ... this is panic. We've got to do something to let them know how it's going to affect us. We're just scared to death about what it's going to do to our programs."
But 50 percent of voters supported the vetoes, according to a poll of 400 likely voters reported by The Oregonian today. Forty percent opposed the vetoes and 10 percent were undecided.
Statewide, Oregon public schools lost $317 million when Kitzhaber vetoed a pair of bills he called "symptomatic of what is wrong with politics today."
One bill borrows $267 million from the next fiscal biennium to pay for this year's shortfall and another borrows $50 million against projected cigarette-tax revenues.
"It's an Enron accounting system ploy," Warrenton Superintendent Craig Brewington said.
But Brewington said he advocates an override because the vetoes would eliminate $380,000 from Warrenton's budget - equivalent to almost a month in school days.
Astoria Superintendent Larry McMacken said almost $1 million would slip through the district's fingers.
"It would hit us in every department," McMacken said.
McMacken said he's waiting to recommend bleeding the budget until after the special session. The district has already closed Olney School and cut five school days to try to balance the budget in response to several funding crises this year.
Schools also face another uncertainty in Measure 19, which voters will decide in a Sept. 17 vote. The measure would use $150 million from a school trust fund for 2002-03 general funding.
"At this point, we will maintain our current staffing level," Seaside Superintendent Doug Dougherty said. "It's too close to the beginning of school and there are too many variables regarding the legislative overrides and ballot Measure 19."
Dougherty said Seaside could lose $1.2 million, and Knappa Superintendent Rick Pass said his district could lose more than $453,000 if the vetoes are not overridden and the ballot measure fails. Jewell School District is safe from the budget cuts because most of its money comes from state timber revenues.
Most superintendents are hoping lobbying will save the cuts.
"We're not sitting on our laurels," McMacken said. "We're talking to people."
As they wait, school payments are already reduced, Oregon Department of Education spokesperson Barbara Wolfe said. Wolfe said if the vetoes are overridden, state payments will be restored.
Clatsop Community College president John Wubben said he's already seen a 25 percent reduction in a state funding check this month. Reductions, this year, that could add up to $868,000 - about 10 percent of the college's total budget.
Wubben said the funding reduction could cost 16 employees. The college has not added any state-funded employees in the last nine years, and the reduction would set the college back about 20 years in its "ability to serve the community," Wubben said.
Wubben said he will go to Salem to lobby legislators Friday, and he heard rumblings that some faculty members would also attend the session for last-minute lobbying.
Rem Nivens, Oregon Community College Association public affairs director, said the vote is too soon to call.
The Oregon Senate would require a 20-10 vote to override the vetoes, and the House of Representatives would require a 40-20 vote to override. If legislators vote along party lines, that would require four Democrats in the Senate to cross party lines and eight Democrats in the House.
"It's something I think is very fluid until the vote," Nivens said.
John Marshall, director of legislative services at the Oregon School Boards Association said he's noticed lots of indecision and sway back and forth on the veto override.
"We've been mostly, obviously, focusing on Democrats," Marshall said. "The governor has been speaking to the same folks."
Marshall said many legislators agree with the governor's policy but understand the loss in school revenue.
"If an individual is leaning toward overriding the governor's veto, the governor or a representative from his office calls them and they lean the other way," he said. "It's very difficult to get solid commitments."