Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Number crunching, not innuendo, will fix schools budget

It's no surprise that nearly every proposed cut will be met with some level of resistance.

It's understandable that emotions run high when school administrators are looking at the kind of budget gaps seen across Oregon, and much of the rest of the nation, this spring.

This isn't a case of trimming a couple of school days, letting a few vacant positions go unfilled or delaying a new program.

When school starts next fall, dozens of teachers, from Banks, Gaston and Forest Grove will be gone; some through retirement, others by way of pink slips.

In the Forest Grove district, for example, officials are looking to eliminate up to 70 teaching positions.

It's also almost certain students will have fewer educational options, as electives and extra-curricular activities will be dropped to protect core classes.

School officials, of course, aren't the only ones who have faced tough decisions. Most businesses have reduced their workforces and operations.

But when a high-tech company or lumber mill decides to eliminate a shift, it doesn't face the kind of backlash school superintendents deal with. That is, in part, because our tax dollars aren't paying the salaries of private employees but also because anyone who has gone through a public school, or had a child do so, has some views about the process.

After all, we've all had teachers who have had an impact on our lives. Many of us know the importance that sports play in keeping some students motivated. Others have seen how learning a trade is as enabling for students who aren't on the college track, as learning a second language is for those who are university-bound.

The thought of closing a community elementary school or merging an entire rural district is painful for the generations of students who were educated in those schools as well as the parents who have kids there now.

So, it's no surprise that nearly every proposed cut will be met with some level of resistance. That's fine. In fact, it's good, serving as a check on decisions and proof that existing teachers, programs and schools have support in the community. But over the past few weeks, the conversation has escalated past the nitty gritty of trimming expenses and vaulted into a series of stabs at the personal motives of school district administrators, relating to everything from personnel to purchases.

The speculation, usually accompanied by overheated rhetoric, won't balance the budget.

If people have concerns about proposals, they should ask for information and explanations (as we have done). But in doing so, their goal should be to understand responses, rather than to make a point about a preconceived opinion based on bits of incomplete information.

District officials, for their part, must answer questions directly and quickly. That is difficult, given all the other demands on their time, but essential if people are to believe the input they've given over the past few months as part of the district's summit on education was more than window-dressing.

Sharing public information, from class sizes and teacher salaries to program costs and contract details, will help everyone understand the hard choices ahead of us.

There is no way the decisions that need to be made will leave everybody happy. But the process should not devolve into personal attacks or assumptions about people's motives.