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Parents, teachers defend classes, programs from district's budget ax

As the reality of $40 million in necessary budget cuts sinks in, parents, teachers and administrators in the Beaverton School District are standing up for the programs they would like to be spared.

A district listening session held Monday night in the Aloha High School commons aired concerns about access to full-day kindergarten as well as the future of physical education, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes and library programs.

At the second in a series of scheduled listening sessions concerning the fledgling 2012-13 budget, Superintendent Jeff Rose explained the predicament - based on state law requiring a balanced budget - in which the district finds itself.

'A reduction of $40 million is probably one of largest in the state this year,' he confessed to the approximately 45 attendees.

Rose outlined several of the harsh realities the district faces following the failure of a local option levy put before voters last fall that would have lightened the financial blow to Beaverton schools:

  • A revenue loss of $14 million over five years, or $70 million total;

  • Spent reserves leave only a 3 percent general fund balance, falling below the district's 5 percent balance-maintenance policy;

  • A projected $40 million shortfall can't be overcome without reductions in schools;

  • School budgets have grown 6 percent over the past four years, while department budgets were reduced by 7 to 45 percent;

  • Through attrition, the number of staff has diminished by 11 percent in administration, 19 percent in central staff and 2 percent in school staff;

  • And, with 86 percent of the budget devoted to staffing, further reductions in staffing and classrooms are inevitable.

    Whole new ballgame

    Kim Overhage, who served on the budget committee for six years and ran for the School Board Zone 5 seat in May 2009, admitted Monday the current challenges are beyond anything she's experienced in the district.

    'Up to this point, we could always rebalance, make cuts in small places, leaving only small holes,' she said. 'This year I think it's at a different level. That's why the discussion is on programs. There are no more easy pickings, no more low-lying fruit.'

    Beaverton schools have already been forced to carve $105 million from the budget in the last four years.

    The mother of a Westview High School student, Overhage called for preserving Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, which she hailed as invaluable portals to higher education.

    'My first plea is to keep them, my second is to open them to more minorities,' she said. 'I want them to realize they can take those classes (and) see pathways that, if they didn't take, they may not even be thinking about college.'

    Full access

    Jennifer Osawa, the parent of a Barnes Elementary School student, read aloud a letter from parents distressed by the lack of full-day kindergarten programs.

    While half-day kindergarten is free, parents pay $375 a month per student for their children to attend full-day sessions. Each school is awarded scholarships on a scale based on its free- and reduced-meal percentages.

    'This appears to be an equitable practice, yet in reality many students at schools like Barnes - where 71 percent of their students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch - are experiencing less access to full-day kinder than students at schools like Bonny Slope, with 13 percent reduced lunch,' Osawa read.

    'Our children cannot wait until 2015 for the full-day kinder mandate to take effect,' she added. 'Over 80 under-privileged students, just at Barnes, have been left out of full-day kinder, and the achievement gap continues to grow. This is an issue of inequity.'

    Charlie Johnson, a media specialist at Sunset High School, urged Rose and the budget committee to exercise caution while making cuts.

    'We have to budget absolutely as closely as possible to the revenue figures we're getting,' he said.

    Rose pointed out sacrifices teachers and other staff members already make to keep programs in place, such as agreeing to four unpaid days off this school year, saving the district about $1 million each of those days. The practice is likely to increase in the coming budget year.

    'That means employees don't get paid,' he said. 'That's not adding a vacation day, it's adding a non-paid day. We do that to try to offset reductions in programs.'

    Everything on the table

    John Burns, a budget committee member and local businessman, said he struggled with how the budget went from needing $10 million cut last year to this year's proposed $40 million figure. He recommended taking a closer look at efficiency levels in operations areas before talking about teacher and school cuts.

    'When you said 40 (million), I started scribbling,' he said. 'I think you need to go back and explain all the layers.'

    While hopeful tax revenues this spring could bring better news for the district, Overhage stressed strong participation from parents, teachers and concerned citizens will be needed as the budget takes shape.

    'There's been a lot of public involvement,' she said, citing surveys and a number of public meetings. 'The people will come out in April.'

    At this point no one should assume any program is too sacred to cut.

    'I don't think they should' assume any program is safe from the chopping block, she said, 'except for the ones that are legislated.'




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