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District should get creative with budget options

Is the Beaverton School District really looking at all available budgeting options to optimize the quality of our children’s education? At the school district’s recent Budget Listening and Learning sessions on Jan. 22 and Feb. 12 , the audience was presented with a powerpoint slide and told that “raising class size” or “eliminating or reducing programs/services” are the only options available to the School Board and district for reducing a budget shortfall.

On the same slide, “salary adjustment,” “four budget reduction days” and “benefit packages” were listed without comment as the other possible options to balance costs, and were presented as “already negotiated for next year.”As Beaverton Save Our Schools has researched other districts around the country, however, it has become clear there are several budget-balancing options frequently deployed elsewhere that have not been considered, at least publicly, here in Beaverton. Here are just a few of many possible options that would both cut the deficit and preserve or increase seat time with certified teachers and/or lower class size:

  • Return some of the more than 30 intervention teachers to the classroom. These teachers are experts, and in terms of triage, we need our expert teachers most urgently in the classroom every day teaching and making up for the lost year our children have experienced. Even half of them would make a significant difference.

  • Put off all technology purchases and simply wait until we find other resources, such as local tech companies/community partners to help us accomplish these acquisitions. A bond could also be used for technology capital expenditures.

  • Instead of hitting the classroom teachers again this year, we need to look at other staff reductions. Classified staff, such as custodians, have already taken a substantial hit; they should not be asked to give more. The administration’s costs are relatively low compared with the rest of Oregon, but they are using many full-time certified teachers on special assignment who work in non-mandated, non-teaching positions that could be transferred back to the regular classroom to help ease class size.

    Further, Administration can work a shorter schedule, perhaps 11 months instead of 12, for instance, or even more abbreviated weeks in the summer. Vacation time for administrative staff could also be reduced. These kinds of strategies are used all across the country.

  • Finally, with regard to negotiating more furlough days/budget reduction days for teachers: teachers have been asked to bear an outsized share of the burden so far, as they are the most visible, and therefore the most vulnerable professionals in the education experience. Should the levy pass, it should be deployed effectively; no more should be asked of the teachers. In fact, it should be used to restore teaching positions and therefore lower class size before anything else.
  • If need be, however, we must be willing to discuss adding more furlough days into the contract. Even one more furlough day — bringing 2013-14 back to five days (the same as 2012-13), would save more than $1 million. These days could and should be taken from the six existing staff development days rather than from any more student contact days.

    Other Oregon districts are considering up to 13 days to balance their budgets, as are other districts across the country; there is a great deal of room between four and 13 budget reduction days. As we know, in every poll last year, all community stakeholders including teachers (all BEA members participated in the tabletop exercises in early 2012) recommended quality over quantity — in other words, the community voted for more budget reduction days in order to keep more teachers and keep class sizes workable (which they are not now).

    Superintendent Jeff Rose said of those sessions that one major purpose was to demonstrate to the community the difficulty of cutting an education budget, not necessarily to take any specific recommendations. If the community’s priorities do not appear in the process more meaningfully and concretely, however, none of us can say we’ve really done our job. It should be noted that all of these possibilities are “sustainable” in that they can be continued and/or adjusted in future years, as opposed to completely lopping off programs, which are much more challenging to restore in better times.We recognize that adding reduction days will involve a negotiated Memorandum of Understanding, but it is there for just this kind of situation. The district must work with the union to find a mutually agreeable number of days that, in combination with other options, can fill this gap, save programs and reduce class size. We will thus make teachers’ jobs more manageable and less desperate every day, and prevent any further burdens placed on the backs of the children.

    We call on the board, district and union to explore these and other possibilities rather than just rely solely on the two options that most directly negatively affect children’s lives. Finally, these choices come down to the School Board. The board should insist the district listen to their stated priorities, and if four board members say something should happen, we should see the administration doing whatever it takes to make that happen, even if it involves a Memorandum of Understanding or other tough choices. An entire generation of children at risk deserves every bit of creative action and shared effort we can muster.

    Carolyn Talarr is a member of Beaverton Friends of Music and Beaverton Save Our Schools.



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