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PERS reforms could save some district 21 jobs

The approved 2013-2014 budget for North Wasco County School District 21 includes a reduction in force of 7.5 positions, but there may be a chance to save some of those jobs.

Chief Financial Officer Randy Anderson told the district’s budget committee that proposed reforms to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) could save the district about $550,000 in contributions in the coming year — and another half a million during the second half of the biennium — if it survives the legal challenges that are sure to come.

“I don’t want to put words in the board’s mouth, but if there is this PERS relief then I think the first thing they would want to look at is to avoid these reductions,” Anderson said.

He said the $550,000 would come from bills passed recently to limit cost of living increases and remove state income tax bonuses. The state plans to allow legal challenges to those reforms to be fast-tracked straight to the Supreme Court so that schools can get relief (or know it’s not coming after all) as soon as possible.

Anderson said the savings would be reflected in a smaller monthly bill, not a check the district can spend all at once.

“PERS is not going to go down, it will just go up less,” he said.

He said currently the district’s contribution is about 25 percent of employees’ salaries but would go up to 27 or 28 percent instead of the scheduled 31 percent. Republicans and Democrats are currently haggling over more extensive money-saving reforms to PERS, but those proposals are considered less likely to pass and less likely to survive legal challenges claiming the changes violate contractual agreements with public employees.

Anderson said despite the bleak budget picture over the last few years he believes things will get better.

“I’m more hopeful than I was in 2009,” he said. “The next biennium of state revenue is predicted to be 9.2 percent higher than the current biennium.”

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