Salem-Keizer schools could see tens of millions of dollars in cuts next year, challenging educators to meet the needs of thousands of local children who will begin school in the fall months behind after prolonged closures.

Superintendent Christy Perry will present a draft budget to the district’s budget committee Tuesday night that was written in a pre-pandemic world where state revenue was steady. But she said Monday that document now bears little resemblance to reality as state agencies plan for significant reductions in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Colt Gill, Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, said Gov. Kate Brown has asked state agencies to plan for a reduction of 8.5% in the state’s general fund. That would mean cutting about $656 million from the state school fund.

Gill said in an email the state Education Department won’t send specific estimates to districts until Brown decides how Oregon will absorb the revenue hit. That will come after a state revenue forecast is released on May 20.

Perry expects the district could see a $48 million cut to its general fund – enough to cover pay and benefits for nearly 500 teachers.

Perry said that her original budget had no cuts or furloughs planned, and Salem-Keizer was expecting to hire dozens of new educators with about $35 million from the landmark education spending bill legislators passed last spring.

“We were on a very good trajectory,” she said.

The fate of that $35 million from Oregon’s new Student Investment Account is also uncertain. That fund was to be paid for with a new corporate activity tax, but with much of the economy at a near standstill, there’s no guarantee the money will be there.

The state education department is “navigating the same kind of economic uncertainty as each school district at this time,” said Gill in an email.

Perry is now assuming the money won’t come through.

The likely impacts are something she hasn’t seen since the Great Recession, when Oregon districts faced year after year of cuts.

“Kids are coming back with a deficit in academic learning, a really traumatic experience a world that’s totally changed and on top of it we reduce the services we’re able to provide for them. That’s the perfect storm of what makes this so bad. I’m hopeful that it’s a quicker economic recovery,” she said.

Her goal would be to keep any needed cuts "as far from the classroom as we can," she said.

But her draft budget doesn’t detail potential cuts yet. Perry said she waited because the state revenue forecast hasn’t yet been released, and there’s talk of a legislative special session to address the economic impacts of the pandemic and related closures.

By law, districts must submit a budget by June 30. With the required public hearings and meetings, she said it’s unlikely Salem-Keizer could draft a document reflecting state spending guidance in time to meet that deadline.

Instead, she wanted her budget outline to reflect what could be possible if legislators choose to prioritize spending for schools as they deal with the fallout to state revenue.

“What we are potentially losing (by) not investing well in our kids, that would be what I want people to take away,” she said.

Salem-Keizer’s budget committee, which includes all seven school board members and seven community volunteers, meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 12. The committee will hear from Perry, ask questions about the draft budget and elect a chair and vice chair.

Immediately after, the school board will meet at 7 p.m. Board members will consider spending $400,000 on new reading materials for elementary school students, an agreement to lease the remainder of the Career Technical Education Center from its owner as programs there expand, and a supplemental budget for the 2019-20 school year which reflects additional grants received.

They will also approve a proclamation for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and consider a revised contract for Perry and an intergovernmental agreement to continue a Mid-Willamette Valley homeless alliance, with $5,000 contributed by the district.

Both meetings are all online and will be broadcast on CCTV Salem (channel 21) and YouTube

The public can submit written or video testimony before the meeting or sign up to call into the meeting with testimony here

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.