Eugene schools face budget crunch: 'We're looking at all options'

EUGENE, Ore. -- The Eugene-4J School District faces another budget crunch of $10 million this spring, which is about 7 percent of their yearly budget for Eugene's schools.

With dwindling reserves, low enrollment numbers and higher education costs, 4-J superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman said that even levy options can't cover the crunch.

"We're looking at all options around the table at this point," said Berman.

He said the local option levy used to mean around $14 million for schools. With a decline in housing values, that money has been cut nearly in half.

The district also has to cover pensions associated with the Public Employees Retirement System.

"The PERS obligation is about a $5 million increase for us. That's a very significant increase," Berman said.

Dr. Berman told KVAL the only consolation is that this budget deficit could have been twice as bad.

More education money than expected this week from the legislature is limiting the damage.

Eugene School Board chairwoman Jennifer Geller said the state budget is still far from final.

"The most worrisome thing from my perspective is that we may in fact be in a situation where we either have to increase class size or continue to have a shortened school year," said Geller.

Berman said it's too early to say how many jobs will be lost or programs cut, yet reassuringly added "We will do whatever we can to minimize the impact on the classroom."

The district is offering an early retirement package to teachers and back-up staff to minimize layoffs. Berman said that 30 teachers have applied for that program so far.