Letting it out
School supporters share shock, concerns in face of deep staff cut proposals
On Tuesday night at Sunset High School, whatever cultural differences that might normally exist between librarians, water polo players and musicians simply melted away.
Teachers, parents, media specialists, athletes, former students and concerned citizens all had one thing on their minds during the Beaverton School District's Budget Committee meeting: The possible end of an era in multifaceted education opportunities and extracurricular activities.
Superintendent Jeff Rose recently laid bare the reality of possible cuts in 344 staff positions in the 2012-13 school year to cover a hefty portion of a $37 million budget shortfall.
The projected wreckage means larger class sizes, fewer course offerings and elimination of certified librarians as well as funding for water polo, golf and some music and band programs.
Acknowledging the brutal reality of the recent announcement, Rose on Tuesday welcomed feedback from the large throng of attendees.
'We all believe that reductions, albeit necessary to meet the legal requirements to balance the budget, are not what our students and staff deserve,' he conceded.
While some of the somber tone from April 19's bombshells remained, Tuesday's listening session indicated employees and supporters of the district were not going to take the news lying down. With testimony from more than 20 speakers, those standing up for library media specialists, water polo and music classes were particularly vocal in their opposition to the slashing cuts.
Jennifer Moore, a music teacher at Cooper Mountain Elementary School who completed her schooling in the Beaverton district, fears financial realities will quash a creative pursuit that carries a long-ranging influence over students' lives.
'Students gain confidence as performers in front of large audiences,' she said. 'I can't count how many ways (music performance) prepares students to be successful in life. Music has been a foundational element for the Beaverton School District. I beg you not to dismantle funding for this sound school (program).'
She was one of several speakers who advocated fewer days in class to preserve valuable staff and programs.
'You should cut days, and not staff, to balance the budget,' she said.
As a large group of fellow student sportsmen showed their support with signs and vigorous applause, Tim Hanlon, a 2011 graduate of Westview High School, credited his water polo team with bringing joy and a sense of purpose to his life as a teenage student.
'Through water polo, I had the time of my life,' he said. 'I want to say thank you for creating this wonderful water polo community. My first jobs were made possible by water polo. It goes far beyond the season and lays groundwork for years to come.'
Kimberly Beaton, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Jacob Wismer Elementary School, said losing media specialists in today's information and technology-dominated environment - with no plan for replacement in place - will have repercussions that extend beyond a nasty budget cycle that has already forced the district to shave $105 million from schools over the last four years.
'Eliminating all librarian or media specialist positions from the district will undermine the effectiveness of the schools and the classroom, and we would like you to reconsider this drastic decision,' she told the Budget Committee. 'Eliminating all media specialists from the district now may mean that when the (economy) improves, the district will have to essentially create a new job class in order to begin hiring them again.
'This could pose a huge, perhaps insurmountable hurdle to getting these important professionals back into our schools,' she added, 'a risk that we find unacceptable.'
Tom Colett, a local resident who grew up in an academic-based household, questioned a budget process that chose to cut five days from the school calendar instead of the 10 recommended through community surveys.
'If we are $37 million short, we should cut 37 days of school,' he said. 'This policy helps support our children by sending a powerful message to the Legislature and the public about the value of education - and the need to fund it properly. It is one of the most visible and important political tools we have in advocating for ourselves.'
At the committee's April 19 meeting, Rose declined to reveal how many school days the district - now in negotiations with its labor unions - might cut from the calendar. At a cost savings of $1 million per day, if the district cut furlough days from the calendar to reflect what $37 million looks like, students would be out of school by mid April, and staff would face a heavy financial burden.
"That option is a bad educational model for students, and it's not sustainable," Rose said. 'The next year we would have to do it again and again until the economy turns and we can fill the (state's school funding) void.'
After the public testimony, the large crowd dispersed into 13 smaller groups in classrooms to discuss their concerns and frustrations with proposed budget cuts with district leaders.
Susan Stone, a representative with the Oregon Association of School Libraries, said Tuesday it's not so much the cuts she objects to, but the apparent lack of a clear long-range plan to restore programs and staff when revenues inevitably improve.
'If the district is in a position to make cuts in (areas) of common, core state standards, do it with a plan,' she said. 'Cutting an entire program in Oregon is dangerous. I've never seen a library program cut and have it come back.
'It's not just about a plan, but a commitment,' she added. 'This is the vision they have for libraries … I think slashing all libraries is incredibly short sighted.'
The next Budget Committee meeting will be held Tuesday, May 15, at 6:30 p.m. in the Beaverton High School cafeteria, 13000 S.W. Second St. To aid the community in following the budget process in the meantime, the district has set up a tab on its website to show Budget Committee questions with responses. Visit www.beaverton.k12.or.us to follow the discussion.
The Budget Committee is expected to approve a 2012-13 proposed budget at its May 17 meeting. The board will then hold a hearing and consider a resolution to adopt the budget at its June 4 meeting.
Beaverton Valley Times Editor Christina Lent contributed to this story.