Beaverton School District braces for outcome of Tuesday's election

It’s the community’s turn to weigh in on the Beaverton School District’s 2013-14 proposed budget.

The district Budget Committee on Monday night unanimously approved a proposal that relies on voter approval of a five-year, $15 million local-option levy and the Oregon Legislature’s proposed reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Beaverton area voters have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to cast their ballots and rule on whether schools will be able to move forward with the first year of adding back to the classroom after five years of cuts, or face carving $5 million more from schools’ budgets.

“I don’t make the decision to vote yes on scenario three lightly,” said Budget Committee Vice Chairwoman Susan Greenberg prior to Monday’s vote. “It is not putting our students first, but it is a start in the positive direction.

“The levy must pass in order for us not to have another year of cuts. I am hopeful that it will.”

School Board Chairwoman LeeAnn Larsen agreed.

“I believe the Internal Budget Committee and this Budget Committee put together the best option possible for funding our district next year,” Larsen said. “It has protected the kids and classroom as best as it can.”

Beaverton schools have already been forced to carve a total of $142 million of reductions in the past five years. Those cuts included eliminating 16 school days and 640 teaching positions, which has increased class sizes at every level.

School district leaders said they didn’t even want to think about making further cuts if the levy doesn’t pass in next week’s election.

Budget Committee member Gerardo Ochoa likened the committee’s decision to planning for the best-case scenario rather than preparing for the worst.

“Now it is up to our community to do their part,” said a hopeful Larsen. “We must pass this local-option levy so that more teachers can be put back in the classroom, so our counselors can get back to doing what they do best with our kids — which is counseling — so our elementary students have more music instruction, and our class sizes begin to move toward a more manageable size. 

“We need to put our district back on the road to recovery and bring hope to the community.”

The local-option levy that appears on the May 21 ballot — Measure 34-204 — will keep the school district from making additional cuts. Passage of the levy would cost $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value over a five-year period, or about $24 per month for the typical homeowner in the district. On the school district’s website is a calculator for homeowners to use to figure out how much the levy will cost them.

“Times have changed, and until our state finds a system for stable financial health, we will need to continue to find local, pragmatic solutions and means of moving forward versus buying back our past,” said Superintendent Jeff Rose. “(This proposed budget) does not afford us everything we want or believe we need. While still uncomfortable for us all, I also believe it provides hope and sets our course for the horizon.”

School Board member Tom Quillin was not able to attend Monday’s meeting, but he added perspective to the tenuous situation district leaders and staff are in as they wait for the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

“I am guessing that each of us on the committee is wrestling some level of discomfort about all the ambiguity we face,” Quillin wrote in a statement read at the beginning of the meeting. “We are uncertain whether district staff could have done things differently. We are uncertain about who our Board of Directors will be next year. We are uncertain about the levy vote — and even uncertain about the amount of money the levy might generate. We are uncertain about the Oregon Legislature’s commitment to our public schools.

“At least one thing is certain: and that is that 40,000 children and their teachers will return to their classrooms this fall, and they are counting on this team to do our best for them.”

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