Every school district in Oregon can use a new free tool to quickly estimate their 2020-21 budgets.
Forecast5 Analytics has created a school revenue calculator specific to Oregon, allowing districts to test what different state funding pictures look like for them. Districts input 11 data points related to the formulas for the State School Fund and the Student Success Act, and the tool creates a district revenue estimate.
The coronavirus has crashed the Oregon economy, and state budget shortfall estimates range from $1 billion to $3 billion, translating into potentially hundreds of millions of dollars cut from the State School Fund. Federal CARES Act education money and the state’s use of rainy day funds throw more variables into the pot for next year’s budgets.
With the new tool, districts can try out different data points, such as changes in the State School Fund or local enrollment, and quickly see what their revenue might be.
Forecast5 has made this budget tool available for free with no obligations to all Oregon school districts.
Forecast5 provides data analysis applications all over the nation for a fee. Current clients already have access to a budget calculator, but Forecast5 typically doesn’t offer the tool by itself or for free.
Forecast5 began offering its services in Oregon in 2017. OSBA invested $1.5 million over three years starting in 2018 to subsidize Forecast5 for all Oregon districts to give them additional tools and data to make budgetary decisions. Districts receive proportional price discounts based on their enrollment, and about half of Oregon districts have signed up.
OSBA, working with the Oregon Association of School Business Officials and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, has enlisted Forecast5 to help districts with budget planning in these uncertain times.
“We thought there would be value in giving to business managers, as they are probably all working from home, a quick tool and calculator that would give them estimates based on information that they are getting from ODE, COSA or OSBA,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green.
Forecast5 made the tool available to all districts at the suggestion of OSBA and OASBO, said Jeff Carew, Forecast5 managing director.
The Legislature will receive its quarterly economic forecast May 20 before it or Gov. Kate Brown start talking specific cuts. Brown has already directed state agencies to make plans for an 8.5% cut, which would reduce the State School Fund by about $653 million. School budgets must be completed by June 30 unless coronavirus restrictions make the process impossible.
“There probably has never been more of a scramble to project revenue than there is now,” Carew said.
The tool, known as “Assumption Assist,” will help current clients communicate with other districts about budgets using apples-to-apples comparisons, Carew said. For the rest of the state’s districts, the tool allows administrators to easily put together multiple budget possibilities for reports to school boards and the public.
The tool went live Monday, April 27, and Forecast5 will offer training and webinars.
Dallas School District Fiscal Services Director Debbie MacLean praises Forecast5’s customer service and the tool’s ease of use. She said it is particularly useful now, when she is “looking at every single line item to see what we can save.”
The district west of Salem has been a Forecast5 client for about a year, and MacLean regularly uses the tool to estimate budgets and prepare reports. She said when she tested it with numbers from the current school year it came within a few thousand dollars on a $25 million budget.
OASBO Executive Director Angie Peterman said that although the tool cannot say exactly what the state will allot to districts, it provides districts with a reasonable estimate for planning.
“The health crisis and current economic circumstance and uncertainties we all face are creating a situation where we will need to prepare for a range of potential funding levels in our 2020-21 General Fund budget,” she said in an email.
North Bend School District Business Manager Sherri O’Connor said her district on the coast has been using Forecast5 for nearly two years.
“I don’t think I could do my work without it at this point,” she said.
She said the Forecast5 revenue calculator is accurate, reliable and requires little time to input data.
“Instead of worrying about our calculations and worrying about whether we did it right and spending a lot of time on that, we can focus on our planning pieces,” O’Connor said. “We now know the dollar amount we are talking about.”
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