Local option passes

Voters grant 5 more years of school levy
by: Rebecca Mayer, School board chair Deborah Lopardo, levy campaign chair Teri Oelrich and superintendent Bill Korach celebrated when they heard the first report from Clackamas County of 56 percent of voters in favor of the levy.

Lake Oswego School District officials and volunteers celebrated on Tuesday night when the first results reported the approval of the renewal on the local option levy.

In Clackamas County, where the majority of school district voters live, the levy had 57 percent approval with 11,896 voting yes and 9,011 voting no. Multnomah County reported 75 yes votes, and 51 no votes, while in Washington County, 41 voted yes and 55 voted no.

'In an economic downturn, we need this for our kids,' said Teri Oelrich, campaign chair. 'It's so important for the community.'

The district asked voters for $1.39 per $1,000 of assessed property value - the same rate it's been receiving since 2000, which was the first fiscal year school districts had the authority to ask for five-year levies for general fund money. The last levy passed in November 2004 with 53 percent of voters in favor.

An owner of a $300,000 home will be paying about $417 per year ($35 per month).

The levy is one piece that will give more security to the district through 2015.

'We're going to head into some tough times,' said school Superintendent Bill Korach. 'It's going to be that one difference maker that will allow us to stay stable even though we'll have to tighten up.'

The levy brings in about 12 percent of the district's budget. This year it amounts to $6.8 million in the district's accounts for the 2008-2009 year.

The standard cost of educating a Lake Oswego student is $8,689; the state has provided about $7,112. The rest is supported by the levy and other local sources such as the Lake Oswego School Foundation.

Korach started the discussion about budget cuts at this week's board meeting saying he anticipated cuts to state funding, as well as a reduced amount of foundation dollars. He presented the board with documents that showed the district's response to the loss of local funding through Measure 5 in 1990.

'We're a heck of a lot stronger than we were in 1990,' said Korach. 'But it won't be as easy as it was the first time.'

Look through the document, Korach said, but 'we've already done most of this stuff.'

When Ballot Measure 5 limited the amount of money a school district could levy, the district took a hit that eventually led to an $80,000 reduction to the 1996-1997 budget.

The 1999 levy passed with a double majority during a spring election. It allowed the district to add back resources after the '90s slump. But it only lessened the pain, lightening the burden of the economic downturn after 9/11.

In 2002, the district was forced to cut 25.5 teaching positions, and without the levy it would have been much worse.

Last year was the first year the district added back again with the help of the levy and the foundation.

'This time we really felt good about it until the market fell,' said School Board Chair Deb Lopardo.

Even with the levy, Korach believe in planning for the worst-case scenario, and that might mean downsizing. The district's staffing currently comprises 72 percent of its budget. The district employs about 400 teachers.

'We always prepare for the worst case and then work to make sure this doesn't happen,' said Korach.

Beginning in 2010, voters will see a decrease on their property taxes even with the renewed levy.

The district will retire a debt in June 2010 - currently 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value - from the 1990 Oak Creek Elementary School construction.

Otherwise - in addition to the levy - homeowners are still paying taxes for a 2000 facilities bond that paid for construction of Lake Oswego High School and improvements at Lakeridge High School as well as the permanent tax rate as set by Oregon Measures 5 and 50.