New Chairman Ted Wheeler will lead study of the community program

Three East County SUN schools slated for closure due to budget cuts will remain open at least for half a year if Multnomah County commissioners approve a new funding resolution Thursday.

Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey's resolution recommends using contingency funds to almost fully fund the SUN school program through January.

By then, Chairman Elect Ted Wheeler will have taken Chairwoman Diane Linn's place at the board's helm. Wheeler has already volunteered to lead a task force dedicated to studying the program and resolving its funding gap.

This spring, three of the county's commissions came under fire for proposing $1.7 million in cuts to the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Program.

The cuts - initially supported by Commissioners Lisa Naito, Serena Cruz Walsh and Rojo de Steffey - would have eliminated half the county's 52 SUN school coordinators, placing those remaining in charge of two schools and rendering the entire program ineffective, critics said.

SUN, a community schools and social services program, helps provide at-risk students and families with everything from clothing to sports physicals.

Although the three commissioners said they supported the popular after-school program, they didn't think it was fair to close individual sites. Instead, they preferred an overall budget reduction, the impact of which would have been spread across all 29 SUN school sites.

In June, the three commissioners in a 3-2 vote approved $1.7 million in cuts to the program.

But earlier this month, Lolenzo Poe, director of the office of school and community partnerships, told commissioners that he preferred closing eight of the SUN school sites rather than making across-the-board cuts to all of them.

Of the eight sites slated for elimination, three of them - Lynch View Elementary, Clear Creek Middle School and Dexter McCarty Middle School - were in Commissioner Lonnie Roberts' East County district. Three others were in Rojo de Steffey's district, with another two in Cruz Walsh's district.

'They can't just pick on eight SUN schools in my district and in Lonnie's district,' Rojo de Steffey said. 'Forget that. I believe in geographic equity.'

So last week, Rojo de Steffey proposed using $385,000 in contingency funds to pay for the eight at-risk sites, as well as for liaisons between the sites and county social service workers.

About $333,000 in cuts is still recommended for the SUN program. But when spread over 29 sites, the bite isn't as painful. Instead, the real bite - $1 million in administrative cuts -is proposed for the office of school and community partnerships.

Roberts' office supports the funding changes.

'These are vital services,' said Gary Walker, Roberts' chief of staff.

If you go

What: County commissioner meeting regarding SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) school funding.

When: 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 17.

Where: Multnomah Building, first floor, commissioners boardroom 100, 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.

Why: Instead of going through with $1.7 million in cuts, which would have gutted the award-winning program's efficiency, commissioners will consider a new plan that would fund the program for half the school year. It would still face $333,000 in cuts, but also would get an infusion of $385,000 from contingency funds.

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