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Beaverton schools get bad news as voters reject levy

by: Christina Lent Beaverton School Board Chairwoman LeeAnn Larsen, Superintendent Jeff Rose, Board member Karen Cunningham and Communications Officer Maureen Wheeler look at Tuesday night's first election results.

Voters rejected the Beaverton School District's five-year local option levy Tuesday night by a slim margin.

In unofficial election results, Measure 34-193 failed with 27,562 'no' votes and 26,064 'yes' votes.

The difference of 1,498 votes means Beaverton schools have no $14 million cushion to soften the blow of having to cut up to $37 million from the 2012-13 district budget.

School officials and campaign supporters were disheartened to watch the results flash on one of the big screens at Buffalo Wild Wings in Beaverton.

'Certainly, it's not the outcome we were hoping for, but I don't believe that our community is saying that they don't value their schools,' said Beaverton School Board member Karen Cunningham, who served as chairwoman of Citizens for School Support. 'These are extraordinary economic times for our Beaverton families and voters.'

She feels the vote was heavily influenced by the recession.

'I really think it's about the economy,' Cunningham said. 'We heard a lot of positive things from people in our community about how they feel about their schools. We received great support from businesses and our community partners.

'Anything negative we heard was about the fact that people are not able to afford the additional taxes right now because of the state of our economy.'

Beaverton Schools Superintendent Jeff Rose agreed.

'This is disappointing,' Rose said. 'We're not frustrated with the voters, but only the conditions.'

Difficult decisions ahead

Tuesday's election is not the end of difficult budgeting times for the Beaverton School District, which has already carved $105 million from school budgets in the last four years. The district faces between $24 million and $37 million in additional cuts in the 2012-13 school year. That is the equivalent of at least 300 teachers or 24 school days.

The five-year local option levy would have brought in an estimated $14 million each year, which would have gone directly to classrooms and staffing.

'I don't believe this vote is a reflection on how this community feels about its schools,' said David Wilkinson, president of the Beaverton Education Association, which represents all certified district staff. 'This is an incredibly difficult economic time.

'I can say that the staff in the district will continue to do the best they can with the resources they have. But we are in for some very difficult conversations and changes.'

Cunningham echoed those statements.

'Our message to all our voters is to stay engaged in the conversation,' Cunningham said. 'We have a lot of difficult decisions to make, and we need our community to be part of those decisions.'

As Cunningham circled the troops Tuesday night, she thanked them for their support and hard work. She also reminded them it would 'take our collective wisdom' to move forward.

'Our 39,000 students are too important to give up on,' she said.