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School Board backs option levy to reverse budget cuts


Voter OK on May 21 could bring Beaverton district $82 million

Parents and residents concerned with the effects of severe budget cuts on Beaverton School District students will soon be able to put their money where their sentiments lie with a five-year, local-option school levy on the May 21 Washington County election ballot.

The School Board unanimously approved the levy proposal at its Monday night meeting as one of the few options toward keeping class sizes from increasing and staffing levels from shrinking in the wake of $37 million in cuts to the 2012-13 school year budget.

The board’s enthusiastic approval will let voters decide whether to place a $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed property tax value burden on district taxpayers for the next five years beginning in 2013. The owner of a home assessed at $200,000 would pay $250 per year in additional property tax.

If passed, the levy could raise $11 million to $17 million per year in additional operating funds to prevent further cuts in teaching positions, generating around $82 million for the district.

In supporting the option levy, Board Chairwoman LeeAnn Larsen shared results of a professional, scientific survey that showed 55 percent supported a levy proposal on the May ballot. A non-scientific online survey of 3,000 respondents the district conducted this month indicated 59 percent would vote “yes” on the local option levy if the vote were held today.

“If we move forward with this, with a continuance of rigorous oversight practices, all the (funding) will remain in the district, with none going to Salem,” she said, referring to the state-based education funding mechanism. “No public or taxpayer money will be used for the (option levy) campaign. We’ll require school board members to help put in some extra hours on the levy.”

Because of reduced state funding throughout the past five years, the district has cut $142 million, eliminated 16 school days and 640 teacher positions.

Class sizes, meanwhile, have increased at every level, according to materials from the district, which projects a funding shortfall of $11 million to $15 million for the 2013-14 school year.

Board member Linda Degman also found virtue in the option levy plan. She expressed concern, however, about those who might vote against to avoid sending money to fund the Public Employees Retirement System in Salem.

“I wholeheartedly support this. Our students and faculty deserve this,” she said, noting the levy is only a “Band-Aid to stop the bleeding for a short time. I would still advocate for state funding ... We need to continue our advocacy down at (Salem), so students and teachers can get what they deserve, which is a high-quality education.”

Board member Sarah Smith thanked parents and citizens who spoke earlier in the meeting, many showing support for the levy. Others expressed concern that it would provide a temporary fix that might cause legislators to take their eye off the education-funding ball.

Smith disagreed with the idea “to make government see how bad it is” by withholding a temporary solution to “let (funding) hit rock bottom. We cannot sacrifice our children in order to prove a point,” she said. “There is no one, easy fix.”

Although reform of the public retirement system is an unsettled issue in Salem, Superintendent Jeff Rose said the district is committed to advocating in that direction.

“We’ve got to recognize the dilemma that we may not know prior to this (option levy) work about PERS reform,” he said. “I think this will be a roundabout conversation for some time.”

Carla Stashin, a mother of a Mountain View Middle School student who is active in district advocacy groups such as Beaverton Friends of Music and Save Our Schools, says at this point, the option levy is a no-brainer.

“I don’t see how we can’t pass it,” she said after Monday’s meeting. “I don’t see how our children can survive further cuts. The levy is our control, and our children need us.”

She attributes the failure of a similar five-year option levy in November 2011 — by a slim 1,183-vote margin — to “communication, or lack thereof.”

“The community’s a lot better now, in terms of advocacy groups and awareness because of the devastation and (citizens) getting more educated,” she said.