District leaders urge public to fight for state revenue solution

Emotions ran deep Monday night as the Beaverton School Board adopted its budget for the 2012-13 school year.

Even as members voted, it was clear district leaders were conflicted when considering the unaltered budget proposal before them, which included eliminating 344 staff positions, losing five school days, cutting funding for waterpolo and golf, reducing funding for music and technology programs, losing all teacher librarians and more to make up for the $37 million shortfall.

Looking out at a packed room and sea of earnest faces holding up white pieces of paper stating 'Save Teachers, Cut Days,' the board voted 5-2 to adopt the budget, with Mary VanderWeele and Linda Degman opposed.

'We are on an unsustainable path in terms of rising costs versus revenue,' VanderWeele said of her reasons for voting against the adoption. 'I believe there was community input from parents and staff on finding a balance between the loss of staff and the loss of school days. That is not reflected in this budget.

'I believe it would be in the interest of the students to cut more days and save staff.'

While neither option is ideal, she said, 'We are balancing the budget on the backs of kids.'

Board member Karen Cunningham told the emotionally charged crowd of nearly 200 people, 'None of us are happy about this budget.'

She and other district leaders said it was imperative the public outcry continue over the need to find a real revenue solution to fully fund K-12 education in Oregon.

'We have a serious revenue problem in this state and in this district,' Cunningham said. 'Some of our problems could have been solved if the local option levy passed.

'I worked hard on trying to do that and am really sorry we are here. It's not fair to our kids.'

Superintendent Jeff Rose said the harsh reality before the board was that $37 million in reductions needed to be made because the district 'does not have enough to fund the very basics.'

Board member Tom Quillin, who participated in the meeting via a conference call, echoed Rose's message that those who made passionate pleas to save programs and staff during the budget process should continue the fight in Salem and urge state leaders to take fiscal action.

'We are in a really unfortunate position with this budget,' Quillin said. 'The pain, dismay and passion you expressed for our students are very powerful and important for us to think about.

'We need to find a way to direct that same effort and focus to start a new conversation.'

Following the vote, people filed out of the room deflated.

District librarians who gathered to celebrate one of their own, Debbie Alvarez, Ridgewood Elementary's media specialist, who was honored earlier in the evening for receiving a Celebrate Literacy Award from the Portland Council of the International Reading Association, brushed away tears.

Band and choir students who spoke up for younger students' need for creative outlets were stunned.

Parents were angry.

The cuts became real.

As district leaders begin to plan for the drastic changes ahead, Rose said, 'We need to look toward solutions. We need to let our community know we are struggling.'

He said it would be a shame if Monday's budget adoption deflated advocacy and 'your voice goes away.'

'We can rally as a community and do things in new ways to increase revenue so teachers and students get what they deserve,' he said.

School Board Chairwoman LeeAnn Larsen agreed.

'We will survive this,' she said.

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