Oregon School Budgets Up in the Air

Paulie Brading

Fot the first time in a very very long time the Oregon legislature approved $5.7 billion this week for schools in the middle of a session instead of the very end of a session. It's big news at the school district level because it gives districts hard numbers to work with while formulating their budget reductions to match the monies provided. The hard numbers provide districts the actual size of the sacrifices needed in all 197 school districts in to prepare a balanced school budget.

Democrat Reps. Val Hoyle of Eugene and Rep. Margaret Doherty of Tigard quickly filed bills to move money from the state reserve funds to increase spending above the $5.7 billion that just won legislative approval.

In Hoyle's school district four schools are slated to close, leading to six school mergers of various degrees. The Eugene school district expects to reduce between 55 to 84 FTE and increase class sizes. The administrative and classified staff face a reduction of 10%. Hoyle's school district is asking employees to accept a pay freeze and no step increases or a 5% salary reduction across the board.

In Doherty's district, plans are to shed more than 90 staff positions due to their $9.5 M shortfall. Fifty-two licensed staff, 35 classified staff and 2 administrative positions and 2 managers will potentially lose their jobs. Ten elementary licensed media specialist have been notified their positions will be eliminated in an effort to balance the Tigard-Tualatin school district budget. The $9.5 million shortfall has been the backdrop for rocky employee negotiations.

Reps. Doherty and Hoyle want to dip into two reserve funds to withdraw $175 million. $100 million would be drawn from the Educational Stability Fund and $75 million would be pulled from the Rainy Day Fund for health care and public safety.

School districts are facing extraordinary fiscal challenges. At the same time scubbing through every line item in a district budget looking for savings is a worthy exercise. In districts where there has been a greater degree of transparency in the process it is possible to gauge public opinion regarding budget reductions. In the end each district must complete their budget process by June 30, 2011.

I remember concluding a Kindergarten Round Up presentation looking into the eyes of anxious parents with these words to them, "You brought them into this world, now it is our turn to bring the world to them." Serving on a school board has only made those words more meaningful, especially now when my district has placed full day kindergarten at seven Title I schools on the chopping block along with deep cuts in special education staffing.

It continues to be a heavy lift to give a proper education to Oregon's students.

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    As someone who has been out of the school loop for some time, can someone tell me what a "licensed media specialist" is. Thx

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        I recently retired as a Media Specialist/Librarian. We are now called Teacher Librarians, as that is what we are and so much more. We not only make sure the libraries are vibrant, inviting places with books and other media for all students, we also teach research, technology, and information skills to students and often, to staff. In the information-overload age, being able to find, select, evaluate, and use information is a critical skill set for students to have. School libraries are not the hushed, dark places that we remember from our school years; they are now the center of most schools. Cutting teacher librarians is another tragic loss for kids and schools.

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    Banks SD - 9 cut days this year another nine next year. Bend-Lapine - seven days cut this year. Nehalem SD - 13 days cut this year, 20 last year The Dalles - 15 days cut this year North Clackamas SD - 14 days cut this year. And, that's just a few of the district cuts.

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    Yes, it is sad and alarming. These severe cut will hurt student learning and handicap our next generations. But there just is not more money now, at least not significantly more.

    But beyond just money, let's recognize that teachers unions are also making our educational system outdated, inadequate and inefficient. Oregon is far behind other states in using technology, computers and online learning to improve both the quality and efficiency of education. In the global economy of the 21st century, we are falling further behind in foreign language education. Utah is "mainstreaming" foreign language immersion programs beginning in kindergarten. Our public school system does not send any high school students to study abroad, although it could do so without spending one dime more. And we have a governor who seems to think reorganizing the status quo in education, rather than engaging the three issues mentioned, is progress.

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      "But there just is not more money now, at least not significantly more."

      That's an interesting claim...we're the wealthiest nation in the world and as wealthy as we have ever been but we don't have the money to fund education appropriately?

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        What I find interesting is the Feds are threatening to withhold money unless Oregon restores a big chunk of special ed money. Couple that with a memo from OSEP earlier in the year stating that states/districts COULD NOT use Response to Intervention methodology to slow down/deny special education identification processes, add in ODE's strong support for RtI, and you've gotta wonder.

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    David, I have no idea what the OEA has to do with making our education system "outdated, inadequate and inefficient". I know your number one priority is foreign language education. However, your comment about Oregon being behind other states has a lot to do with how policy is set at the local level. Many districts have technology, computers, and online learning. Foreign language is just one aspect of many important items that need to be included in a high school curriculum.

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      Deborah, for several sessions I've watched OEA refuse to support various bills expanding Mandarin education and creating a clearly authorized statewide high school study abroad program. Particularly in a Democratic legislature nothing in education happens without OEA support. They have a thousand ways to kill bills. Little has happened and, IMHO, teachers through their various unions are impeding the prospects for global peace. It’s very serious. Teachers have taken on an enormous responsibility (and most may not realize it). OEA has a narrow agenda of protecting teacher interests. They do not put students or student futures first. They do not want to think about future China-US relations (and what that means for global peace) and their role in creating that future relationship.

      I’ve tried many approaches with the OEA. I’ve met with its leaders. I’ve regularly emailed its leadership and some members statewide. I’ve asked unsuccessfully to meet with its legislative committee. I’ve held vigils with placards outside its Portland headquarters, at its 2010 Representative Assembly (here), and outside the Portland Association of Teachers offices (here). Nothing gets through.

      On technology: Oregon does not have a statewide online school like Florida. Very few Oregon schools provide their upper grade students with laptop computers. Very few Oregon schools permit their students to take online courses for credit independent from the traditional bricks-and-mortar classrooms. Oregon is behind (for example, here).

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    FYI - A media specialist does more than handle hard copy books and their catalogueing and tracking. They also are responsible for all online reference resources, data bases, construction and maintenance of websites for reference/research resources. Many media specialists are responsible for the maintenance of computer labs, and they teach research classes to students from grade school all the way through high school. Since many of the media specialists have great technical knowledge and training they tend to be tech consultants and trouble shooters. So the whole area of academic research training and study is going to suffer severely.

    In all the news about layoffs I haven't heard about a single coach being laid off.

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    In the latest news, Oregon has received a denial in their waiver request to cut special education funding.

    They had asked the U.S. Dept. of Education for a waiver to cut $15.7 billion from the special education budget. Without a waiver, the state has to spend the same or more in this area as it did previously.

    The federal government told them they have to replace the funds or lose a matching amount of $15.7 million from the federal government. The feds said that the state should look at dipping into its reserves for the funds.

    Oregon was apparently the only state to be denied a waiver.

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      That's million, not billion. Brain has way too many things going on right now!

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      Jenni and those who are interested, take a look at the memo referenced in this link: http://blog.foxspecialedlaw.com/2011/04/special-education-administrators-polled-about-the-impact-of-the-economy-on-special-ed.html

      And contemplate the reality that ODE is heavily pushing RtI.

      Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

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        Yea, we already struggle to get Abby the services she needs in school because the funding isn't there. I hate to see what is going to happen if there are further cuts in special education.

        It'll cost schools and the state a lot more if parents start suing because their children are not receiving the education that they should. Not to mention that it is much cheaper to work with the students when they are young and better prepare them to be independent than to have to care for them once they're out of their parents' house.

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          What you said--exactly. There's studies coming out showing the need for more intensive involvement in birth to age 3 support if we are to have a competitive future workforce.

          I suspect that there's a whole house of lawsuit cards just waiting to fall throughout the state. When it comes home to roost, things are going to get ugly.

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    Oregon has outspent Washington (per student) in almost every year since 1980. That is remarkable since Washington is considerably more affluent (ranked 14th compared to 32nd in Oregon). "Does it matter..."?There are states such as South Dakota that spend considerably less than Oregon (per student) with considerably better academic results. Then there are many states (e.g. Nevada) which spend considerably more with lower academic results.

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      FYI-comparing per student spending dollar for dollar is sometimes more like apples and oranges. For instance, Portland has to pay teachers and administrators more than say Jackson, Mississippi where it's a much lower cost of living. From what I understand, when regional factors like cost of living are considered Oregon is ranked low when it comes to per student spending. Make no mistake, resources matter.

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    Great post, Paulie.

    Just one correction: during the past four years (of Democratic legislative majorities), we did NOT leave the K-12 budget until "the very end of the session." We actually approved the K-12 budgets in 2007 and 2009 very soon after the May forecast, enabling school boards to incorporate the actual dollars into their budgets before approval.

    You are correct that for many years (during Republican legislative majorities), they did leave the K-12 budget until the very end of session, which was well after June. As a former school board member myself, it was maddening to have to pass a district budget in June without knowing the state K-12 appropriation until July or August.

    But those days ended when Democratic legislative majorities were elected in 2006, and the Republicans fortunately now share our commitment to timely K-12 budgets.

    Great post otherwise. Thanks for your work in Jackson County for kids -- and others!

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      this is also the first time the Leg could approve a K12 budget this early knowing they have a constitutionally appointed Leg session the following year to address any problems. in the past, if the budget had issues, it was up to the E-Board to fix -- not exactly what Oregonians or lawmakers envision as the democratic process. (and they had obvious limits.) so if the reserves do not get tapped further in this session, it's not the worst thing since the Leg will be back in Salem in 10 months.

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    Another word about media specialists.... when high schools lay off their media specialist they lose their accreditation. Likewise for those districts who have an accredited baccalaureate degree program. (equivalence to one year of university). They lose their baccalaureate degree accreditation. Some high schools are willing to lay off their media specialist and lose accreditation rather than lay off their coach. Shows you where the priorities are in these districts.

    Accreditation organizations consider a full time media specialist essential to a high school educational program in order for proper instruction in academic research to take place, and for proper access to reference, research, and literature materials to be available. School boards too often consider the presence of the coach and a football team much more essential to "educational" functioning.

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      Exactly, which is why we're so worried about MHCC laying off all of its full-time faculty librarians. Without them, there is concern that we'll no longer meet service standards for accreditation.

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    The comments in the article are a cross section of opinions on the state of public education in Oregon.

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    Some random thoughts connected to the budget. Measuring academic gains by looking at testing is nuts. Just shows who does a better job teaching to the test. One of Oregon's educational problems is buying into the testing mentality. Compare opportunities instead and focus there. Plus, librarians are critical to a good education, particularly in those lower-economic schools where you need to encourage kids to read much more than they do. The reason librarians are cut is because they don't take up a class section all the time and thus are an additional expense. One of the great myths of middle school education is that you save money by cutting P.E., art, music, and the like. You don't. This stuff gets cut now because of the testing focus. Let's spend more time teaching to the test (we call it core classes) so we look better. Not educate better. Vancouver's or Evergreen's education in the middle grades is better than any public school in Oregon. But they can raise money in Washington outside of the general fund for things such as athletics, music, etc. with a special levy.

    P.S. The OEA screws up sometimes. Big time. But blaming them for the educational problems is bogus. Not helping is a lot different than stopping. And their job incidentally is to protect and support their members, not run the schools. Running the schools is the job of the legislature, the school boards, and the school administrations. Individual teachers also are not the OEA. They are members in a union designed as a union. Once people figure this out they have to look at the whole OEA problem differently. Heck, blame them for teachers making too much, which they don't, and having great benefits, which they do but that is part of the perks of becoming a teacher. My neighbor is an airline pilot and flies free all over the world. Who complains about that? Oh, airplane pilots make too much. Well, they are not paid by the government, but their salaries sure affect the high cost of air travel. Heck, complain all you want about teachers, just use a litle reason.

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