Already facing a potentially smaller budget next year, things could go from bad to worse for the Pendleton School District if voters don’t pass a $2.35 million levy later this month. Laying off teachers is a possibility if the levy fails.

District supporters are hoping voters will support the levy as they did the 2013 $58 million bond.

While both the bond and the levy are continuations of existing taxes, Pendleton School Board member Debbie McBee they serve different purposes.

By law, bonds can only be used for construction and capital improvement costs. The most recent bond is being used to build new structures for Washington and Sherwood Heights elementary schools, among other projects.

The five-year levy, which has been renewed several times since it was first introduced in 2000, helps pays for operational costs like teacher salaries and student programs.

The levy imposes a property tax rate of 40 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, generating roughly $300,000 per year. The passage of the levy would also trigger equalization payments from the state, which would give the district an extra $170,000 per year.

Although the district is asking for a smaller amount of money for the levy than they did for the bond, McBee said the levy is no less crucial.

If the levy doesn’t pass, teacher positions could be cut as a result.

“The last thing we want to do is cut teachers because we already have a high teacher-student ratio,” McBee said.

Pendleton School Board Chairman Steve Umbarger recently said that, if the state budget is passed, the district would already face a $750,000 budget shortfall because of a decrease in funding. That number would dip into the millions without the levy.

State help could be on the way in the form of the Legislature’s May 14 revenue forecast. Forty percent of any additional tax collections featured in the forecast will go toward education.

If the additional revenue still fails to cover some district’s budget gaps, Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, co-chairman of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, said his committee will “wrestle” with the state budget to find alternative sources of revenue.

Ballots are due May 19.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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