Not Business as Usual

Paulie Brading

If you'd like to read about the most important gathering of over 850 political, citizen, and business leaders from all parts of the state just visit to see what is about to take place tomorrow morning at the summit.

Over the past year a series of regional meetings have been held to discuss how Oregon can break out of its circle of scarcity, other wise known as the state's financial crisis. The two major goals at the summit tomorrow are: 1. Redesign the way Oregon budgets for and delivers public services. 2. Sparking private sector job growth-the best source of revenue for the public sector.

In-coming Governor Kitzhaber will lead a dicussion on investing in Oregon's education.

Like many school board members across the state I am looking at the financial challenge facing the Medford School District. 12,600 students attend Medford schools over 50% receive free and reduced lunch, a massive increase in free lunches over the past two years.

Every school district is challenged by the pressure on revenue sources vs. rising costs. In our district we project district costs increasing at 6% per year. The costs are due to PERS increases, health insurance increases, and Step increases in payroll.

When we looked at the next Biennium with the assumption of $5.75 Billion in state revenue for all school districts, the Medford School District has a budget gap between resources and expenses of $10 to $12 million. In our district $10 million equals about 30 school days.

Just how bad is it for other school districts in the state? Portland Public is looking at a $40 million gap. Salem-Keizer expects a $58 million gap. Beaverton is expecting a $31 million gap, Eugene-$35 million and Hillsboro $25 million.

You can expect districts to begin, if they havn't already, to communicate the budget gap to their communities. Many districts will hold public meetings and meet with their employee groups. We'll all be holding our breath waiting for the state's March and May revenue forecasts. In June, districts will adopt their budgets.

Some districts are already looking at closing schools to reduce costs. If you live in Lake Oswego or Eugene the discussions about potential school closures are hot. Throw in labor negotiations with employee groups (teachers & classified) the stove heats up even more.

Governor Elect Kitzhaber has formed 4 transition teams: Early Chilhood, K-12 Education, Post-Secondary Education and Outcome Based Management. He stated several times during his campaign that the state has its priorties backwards. "We should be investing in early childhood," he stated. The trends in state funding disturb me. We invest more per prisoner than we do per student in Oregon.

This column will attract comments about PERS expenses, health insurance costs, cost of living increases, step increases and the out-of-state PERS taxbreaks. If only it were that easy to address the school district budget gaps throughout the state. It's not.

Trying to continue to do business as usual is no longer possible in most school districts. Serious structural changes must be made to educate our children. Sadly, our current students will be less educated than their parents due to shorter school years, higher classsizes, fewer electives, loss of music, art, PE, librarians, counselors and administrators. More students will drop out. There will be less and less small group instruction and discipline issues will rise.

Every district has a school board who are elected by their community. In addition most districts have budget committees of citizens appointed by the board. These people volunteer their time to try to the best they can for students across the state. We confront the reality that Oregon students are being seriously shortchanged. Our state needs to keep its committment to Oregon's public school children.

Leaders across the state gather tomorrow to discuss how Oregon can break out of a circle of scarcity and focus on the best ways out of Oregon's financial crisis. Wish them luck, they're going to need it.

Comments

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    One piece of the solution to more jobs and more revenues, public and private, is to think more broadly about to whom we sell our goods and services. While the US may grow annually in the 2-3% range for the next decades, emerging economies like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey, are growing annually in the 6-10% range. We need to export more. And we need to target some of these countries for our exports. And, if as a school board member, your district does not have a Mandarin immersion program, or online foreign language programs in the languages of the countries above, or does not pay (equal to what would be spent in district) for high school students to study abroad for a year in one of the countries above, then your school district is placing limits on our economic growth and giving its students a second class education for the global economy ahead. At whatever level we fund education (and there will be major cuts), if we do not do the above, our students and our economy will fall behind. You are right: it is not business as usual.

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    When the wealthiest district in the state, Lake Oswego, is planning to close one of their two high schools and one third of their elementary schools, you know things are very bad.

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    The Medford school board, pre-Paulie had the data supporting closure of two elementary schools. Instead they kept all and virtually rebuilt them along with a new "flagship" High School after lying to the voters about a huge $189 million bond.

    Medford, like many other districts needed to close schools instead of a massive rebuild project. Perhaps Portland can learn from Medford's mistakes.

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      Kinda reminds a fellow of building a dozen new libraries in a very short time ... and then having no money to keep them open, doesn't it?

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    You can bet that while they are laying off teachers, closing schools, cutting curriculum, and generally trashing education, that there will be no cutting of funds for sports programs or sports facilities. Such are the priorities of Oregon voters. When the last school closes, and the last teacher is laid off,when education ceases to exist, there will still be a football coach, an astroturf stadium,a rally squad, and Friday night football games.

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      Not fully correct. Many districts went to pay to play back in 2003 and have consistently raised the amount a student is charged. Programs have been eliminated in many middle schools and second JV teams in High Schools.

      The point is well taken though, especially regarding state play-offs. No school that placed below second in their district should be travelling to a state tournament.

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        Public funds still support the bulk of sports activities in both facilities and staffing. The pay-to-play is window dressing to appease voters.

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    In one paragraph you say, "This column will attract comments about PERS expenses, health insurance costs, cost of living increases, step increases and the out-of-state PERS taxbreaks. If only it were that easy to address the school district budget gaps throughout the state. It's not."

    While just six paragraphs up you said, "In our district we project district costs increasing at 6% per year. The costs are due to PERS increases, health insurance increases, and Step increases in payroll."

    I have read for at least a couple of years now that PERS and medical costs were going to be consuming 18-24 percent of every state agency budget, starting 2011. Good luck to you, the legislature, Governor Kitzhaber .... and the rest of us!

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