Bill to bolster RCC budget stalls


The battle may have been lost, but the war continues over a state funding formula that critics say shortchanges Rogue Community College.

That formula punishes RCC and a handful of other two-year schools that local taxpayers vote to subsidize. So says state Sen. Alan Bates and Rep. Peter Buckley, the Ashland Democrats who introduced legislation to modify the way the state funds its 17 community colleges.

Amid opposition from lawmakers mostly representing the Portland Metropolitan area, the Bates-Buckley proposal stalled in the House Education Committee, which Buckley chairs.

Unable to muster the votes to move their legislation to the House floor where they would have likely galvanized other lawmakers from rural areas to support their bill, the two took a circuitous route through the budget process to protect RCC and the other schools.

Bates, a member of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the budget-writing process, persuaded the panel's co-chairs to attach a so-called "budget note" to the $511 million community college budget, which the full House is expected to vote on this week.

That legislative directive instructs community college presidents to collectively draft a new funding formula and return to the Legislature next session with their plan before it is enacted.

"They are not going to keep the same kooky formula because they know they're being watched," Bates said. "We wanted to get their attention with our bill and we did."

Under a complex funding formula drafted by the presidents and enacted last year by the state Department of Education, local property tax revenues that pour into a college's coffers are subtracted from the amount that the school would get as its general fund allocation.

That funding method penalizes schools like RCC, which benefit from special voter-approved levies.

The inequities are so great that even as state spending for community colleges has increased 13 percent since 2003, RCC has experienced a 16 percent decrease in its state funding simply because Jackson and Josephine counties raise millions for RCC though a voter-approved property tax levy.

Bates said he is troubled that RCC has shelved its diesel technology and electronics programs to help bring the college's budget in line with the money it receives from the state even as Portland Community College and Mount Hood Community College are awarding pay raises and adding programs.

Buckley said with the budget note college presidents will be "put on notice" to adopt a more equitable funding formula.

"We are determined not to let this issue go," Buckley said. "This situation is unacceptable to all of us in the Southern Oregon (legislative) delegation."

Medford Republican Reps. Sal Esquivel and George Gilman, a former RCC board member, supported the Bates-Buckley proposal, as outlined in House Bill 2769.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, expressing his opposition, said during a legislative hearing that if adopted the Bates-Buckley proposal would cost Portland Community College at least $5 million each biennium.

"The problem is there are winners and losers," said Greenlick, D-Portland.

Indeed, there are, and RCC happens to be on the losing end of the formula, along with Lane Community College in Eugene and Central Oregon Community College in Bend.

covers the state Legislature for The Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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