Governor tells schools to hold $200 million

PORTLAND — Gov. Ted Kulongoski says Oregon school boards shouldn't be in a hurry to spend $200 million the Legislature approved last month.

The governor signed the appropriation on Monday, but included a letter that urges school boards to hold the money in reserve as they prepare for next school year.

His letter reflects unease over the prospects for state finances as Oregon emerges weakly from a recession.

In 2011, the state could be 15 percent short of revenue, Kulongoski said. He is in his final year in office and won't be party to the budget negotiations next year between lawmakers and a new governor.

The $200 million approved in a February special session brought the total school aid for the current two-year state budget to $6 billion.

Teachers and school boards made the extra money a top priority. Lawmakers approved it by lopsided bipartisan majorities in the hope that districts wouldn't shorten school years.

The Democratic governor and the Democrats in charge of the Legislature have been at odds over extra money for school aid since he lost a veto fight over it during the 2009 session.

Kulongoski didn't veto the extra money approved in 2010, said spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor, "because the veto was already overridden."

Still, Kulongoski said in a statement, he's concerned the state can't sustain the education aid through the next budget period, which will begin in mid-2011 and run for two years.

And, he said, appropriating the $200 million now leaves the state with almost nothing in reserve if revenues fall short of expectations during the current budget period.

House Speaker Dave Hunt said Tuesday that legislators want districts to "use these funds to ensure they keep their doors open for a full school year. That's most important to us in the Legislature."

"We cannot let our schools close early. We cannot lay off teachers. We cannot increase class sizes," he said in a statement. "That's why we worked so hard to get the full amount we pledged for schools."

Kulongoski faces an April 8 deadline to finish signing, or vetoing, bills from the monthlong February special session. He said he's considering vetoes of bills that:

  • Could lead to allowing psychologists to prescribe some drugs for people with mental problems. Backers say there aren't enough psychiatrists in Oregon, and opponents worry that psychologists don't have enough medical training.
  • Would allow beverage distributors to form a bottle-return cooperative. The governor says the bill might violate antitrust law and hinder recycling.
  • Would allow working teachers and superintendents to be voting members of the Oregon Board of Education, which sets education policy. Taylor said Kulongoski is worried about maintaining impartiality on the board.

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