What's your top priority for school funding?

Beaverton School District asks community to weigh in on budget choices

The Beaverton School District is facing yet another brutal budgeting process.

As district officials begin the task of identifying between $24 million and $37 million in cuts to carve from next year's school budgets, they are looking to the community for guidance.

This week the district launched an electronic survey, asking staff, parents, high school students, business leaders and area residents what the education priorities should be when faced with deciding what programs, services, staffing levels and items to protect.

'We want to know what the community priorities are - what is most important,' said Claire Hertz, the district's chief financial officer.

In the survey, the district asks participants to prioritize nine components of its K-12 educational program: length of school year, electives, class size, college and career readiness preparation, high-quality instruction by qualified teachers, technology, extracurricular opportunities, safety and community engagement.

While all of the components are important, the district can't afford to fully fund all of them anymore, said Maureen Wheeler, school district spokeswoman.

In addition to informing the district's internal budget team, responses will be summarized and shared with the community.

These ranked priorities, along with information gathered during budget listening sessions in January and February, will help guide the budgeting process as district leaders craft a budget proposal to present to the Budget Committee in the spring.

'We know for certain that schools will not look the same as they have in the past,' Wheeler said. 'We have already had to reduce $105 million from our budget in the last four years. With the failure of the local option levy, we do not have any additional funding to help us.

'There are going to be some really difficult choices made based on the priorities.'

Superintendent Jeff Rose agreed, adding the district will have to make 'a lot of dramatic decisions that will impact our schools and our students as well as our families.'

He pledged that the district would do the best it can with the resources it has available.

'It's just unfortunate we don't have enough to support schools at the level we all know is truly what our students deserve,' Rose said.

Between now and Jan. 3, district leaders hope to get as many people as possible to participate in the survey, which is offered in English and Spanish. In addition to ranking nine education priorities, there is also a comment section for people to offer additional input.

School Board members have already been grappling with the task of finalizing their individual priorities, which will be tallied and ranked.

In the meantime, the district's internal budget team is crunching the numbers to get a better picture of what the actual budget shortfall will be in the 2012-13 school year. Hertz estimates it will be closer to the $37 million mark rather than the lower $24 million figure.

Rather than focusing on what items will be on the chopping block, the budget team plans to focus on building a comprehensive budget.

'We are building a budget to meet our strategic plan and our district goal rather than talking about what we're taking away,' Hertz explained. 'Our discussions will be focused on what we are building on with the resources we have available to us.'

District leaders will begin by looking at graduation requirements and state and federal guidelines. Leaders will then focus their energy on building a budget based on what is required, educators' knowledge within the district and priority data received from the School Board and community.

To take the survey, visit www.beaverton.k12.or.us .