It has been interesting to watch our local school board grapple with the decision to ask district voters to consider a local option levy. The district has never gone to local patrons on this question before and their deliberations spoke volumes about their integrity in attempting to make the right call.
The first issue the board weighed involved the financial stewardship of both the district and the families in our boundary. No one likes new taxes and the board needed to be sure this was the right action before putting the levy on the Nov. 5 ballot. Two factors led them to believe this was a financially responsible move. First was the fact that North Marion School District has by far the lowest permanent tax rate among the 31 public school districts in the four-county region Marion, Clackamas, Yamhill and Polk. Even with the increase of the local option, North Marion remains in the bottom 25 percent of the districts.
The second factor involved the surprising information if we pass the local option we will be eligible for a matching grant from the state equal to 53 percent of the revenue earned from the levy. For us, this represents about $310,000 in the first year alone. If the legislature continues to fund the grant as it always has in the past, this could represent $1.2 million of revenue over the four years of the levy with no taxes to local voters. With these two issues in mind, the board decided asking voters to consider a local option was a financially reasonable action to take.
The second issue involved the need for the levy: Is the need compelling enough to ask voters to supplement the funds we receive from the state? This issue also involved two factors the board considered. First, have the cuts over the past five years had a negative impact on our school and, if so, can those impacts be rectified within the regular budget? The cuts have had a detrimental impact. Staffing has gone down, class sizes have gone up, programs have been eliminated, maintenance has been delayed, instructional material purchases put off and test scores have declined. The board determined it would take years for these items to be restored to the budget given the current level of funding.
The second factor involves the need to invest in items not currently covered in the budget. Safety grabbed the spotlight last year when the shooting took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the board ordered the district to audit its safety practices and make recommendations for improvement. The list for improvements includes new surveillance equipment, alarm systems, secured building entryways, remote locking doors and intruder-proof latches on all classroom doors. The board also looked at investing in new instructional technology in the classrooms for both students and staff. The final investment included repairing and expansion of facilities and grounds. The board concluded these investments are simply not plausible within the current confines of the districts budget.
The board is now asking voters to decide if the rationale they used for placing the levy on the ballot is reasonable enough to support, or if the issues lack the substance needed to justify the additional taxation.
It will now be interesting to see how our voters grapple with this issue.