Earlier this week, the Oregon Legislature voted to approve an increase of $100 million for Oregon schools, as well as measures that will reduce ongoing employee retirement costs for schools and other public services.
The added funds amount to just over a one percent increase in school funding statewide. This boosts state school funding from $6.55 billion to $6.65 billion this biennium (2013-15), setting an important baseline as the State plans school funding for 2015-17.
Legislative leaders decided to focus the state funding increase in the 2014-15 fiscal year only, and urge school districts to spend the money on added teachers, school days and lower class sizes. For Oregon City School District, this will likely mean the ability to restore a full school calendar in 2014-15, or at least get very close.
We are grateful for this extraordinary support of public education. While this week's vote does not solve Oregon’s school funding problems, or help districts add back all the programs and staff that have been cut as state support has declined over years, it is another important step in the right direction toward stable and adequate K-12 funding in Oregon.
The Oregon City School Board supports the efforts of the CLASS Project Design Team, but regrets that it was unable to reach agreement with the federal government on a way to utilize grant funds. Leaving a five-year 2.54 million dollar grant was a difficult decision. Not all stakeholders will agree with it. However, supporting proven strategies to increase student achievement will continue to be the focus in Oregon City. A new evaluation system for teachers and administrators is only one example of the strong work generated by this grant that will carry on.
The May 17th election was an important one for Oregon City Schools and other districts across the state. Unfortunately, the three-year local option levy to restore two weeks of school for Oregon City kids was defeated.
In an encouraging message sent to the district's staff earlier today superintendent Roger Rada said, "I certainly don't see this vote as a rebuke of our schools or our employees. We have incredible teachers and support staff. You all do incredible work, and our schools are highly regarded within our community and across the state."
Rada indicates that it will be difficult to maintain the strong academic growth the district's students have demonstrated over the last several years. Students will be in larger classes for fewer days; not a good combination for their success.
"We knew asking the community to pay additional taxes during these tough economic times would be difficult, but we had to try for our kids," says Superintendent Roger Rada. "We can only keep on doing our best, wait for the economy to improve, and hope that the legislature takes steps to stabilize school funding."
On March 29th the ways and means co-chairs released their proposed two-year budget that will be presented to the legislature. The good news is that they're getting this done much earlier than usual. The bad news is that the amount they've dedicated for k-12 education does nothing to help us restore programs or to reduce the number of furlough days that we expect to take next year to balance our budget.
The second week in February community leaders gathered in Oregon City to hear about the current budget crisis. At the meeting they learned about the last 3 years of cuts and the projected $9.2 million dollar shortfall for next school year. The community leaders were told about a plan to go out for a local option levy. If passed the local option would help save 2 school weeks of instruction. The participants at this meeting supported asking the school board to place a local option levy on the May 17th ballot. On February 14th the school board voted unanimously to do so.
The Oregon City School District is one of the leading districts in the state in school improvement efforts. In the last couple of years our students scored above the state average at every grade level and in every subject tested. Few districts can boast of this level of student achievement. However, this record of success is in jeopardy!
Last year we reduced our budget by about $9 million, resulting in eliminating 46 classroom teachers, 16 specialists (including elementary PE teachers), 1.75 administrators and 35 school support positions. With considerably fewer adults in our schools, students don't get the attention they deserve.
At the same time, over the last two years our teachers, administrators, and support staff have given up about $5.2 million in salary and benefits that they were scheduled to receive.
As you probably know, schools all across Oregon are suffering similar program reductions including PE and music programs eliminated, counseling services curtailed, and classroom sizes increased.
School funding has been hit so hard by state budget cuts that we're also seeing many local schools cut entire days from the school calendar. This year Oregon City expects to cut five school days ˆ next year we may have to cut many more.
These cuts matter. Students receive less support and less instructional time. Across this state our ability to provide our students an effective learning experience is in serious jeopardy, and it appears that next year the state may further reduce school funding.
Students only get one shot at a good education. How can we keep our commitment to our children?
Oregon City School District is an equal opportunity educator and employer.