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Parents' turn to talk school cuts

Beaverton School District offers list of 25 budget reductions, looks to community for feedback

Beaverton School District students face six fewer school days, higher class sizes, no media specialists in their libraries and fewer school staff to offer them support in the 2011-12 school year.

Those are just a few of the impacts that could become a reality under a prioritized list of 25 potential reductions revealed during Tuesday night's Budget Committee.

'We are looking at a number of difficult cuts,' said Superintendent Jerry Colonna, 'We tried to protect as much as possible direct student instruction in the classroom.'

The Beaverton School District faces a projected $26 million to $33 million general fund budget shortfall for the 2011-12 school year. Determining what cuts to make remains a daunting challenge for district leaders as they have already been forced to carve $80 million from school budgets in the last three years.

During Tuesday's meeting, Colonna went through a list of potential cuts for the Budget Committee to consider in the next two months. That list included eliminating more than 200 positions across its work force, asking its employees to take up to six furlough days at a 3 percent salary decrease, increasing class sizes at all levels and reducing budgets for English as a Second Language programs, athletics and activities.

Potential staffing cuts on the chopping block include all 51 media specialists across the district as well as 33 special education staff members, about 100 teachers, six administrators and more than a dozen support staff.

'This is a very painful situation for us to have to consider,' said School Board Chairman Tom Quillin. 'All of the line items on this list are things that affect a large number of people.

'There are many painful choices here.'

Some of the items require the district's employee groups to agree to before the budget is adopted.

District leaders are in negotiations with union representatives about an early retirement incentive agreement as well as discussions for four furlough days for all employee groups with the potential of two additional furlough days as needed, Colonna said. A retirement incentive with six furlough days could save the district nearly $7.6 million in the next school year.

Three of the items on the list will increase class sizes - first in kindergarten through eighth-grade levels and then into overcrowded high school classrooms as well. Those options will directly impact staff, by increasing case loads, reducing planning time and eliminating teaching positions and class offerings, district leaders said.

The district is also considering limiting the use of substitutes, reducing the athletics and activities budget by 10 percent, reducing the ESL budget in proportion to decreased enrollment and cutting schools' individual budgets by 5 percent.

However, it was the proposal to cut librarians in schools that prompted members of the Budget Committee to direct district leaders to come forward with other alternatives to consider.

'This was a very difficult item to bring forward,' Colonna told the committee. 'We are one of the few districts to have a fulltime media specialist at each of our schools…These positions are very important to us.'

Committee member Cameron Irtifa argued that having two items on the list that would essentially eliminate all of those positions does not reflect their value and troubled him.

'We are conveying a message that we don't need them,' Irtifa said.

He also questioned 'why one group is being targeted' and wondered why other options were not on the table.

Board member Mary VanderWeele said she would prefer to see new initiatives on the list rather than media specialists as their work supports several targets in the district's strategic plan, including technology support, empowing teaching staff, aiding in individual student achievement and enhancing volunteerism.

District leaders assured the committee that the proposed list is likely to change as the Oregon Legislature continues its work to determine the state school funding level for next year.

The district's Listening Sessions are also key, said Board member Sarah Smith. During two listening session, the committee will seek community input on other areas to cut if parents, residents, staff and others don't like what is on the list to date.

'This is not the end point,' Smith said.

What's next?

The Beaverton School District will hold two Listening Sessions for the Budget Committee to take community input on the 2011-12 budget. Everyone is encouraged to attend.

They will take place:

  • Wednesday, March 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sunset High School.
  • Thursday, April 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Beaverton High School.
  • Comments can also be submitted to the district's Community Involvement Office.