Local school districts need adequacy, predictability when preparing their budgets

As part of my weekly duties here at the Estacada News, I get to look back through our past issues to see what was happening here in years past.

This is similar to work I did at other publications back in my early 20s.

It’s always amazed me at how often history seems to repeat itself. A few weeks ago, I discovered a story from our back pages, in which local school officials blasted the Legislature for inadequately funding the state’s education budget.

That topic may seem familiar, as a similar story is featured in this very issue.

The Estacada Education Association took out a full-page advertisement in our Feb. 21 issue, in which it describes the sacrifices that the district’s teachers have made over the years. It also urges concerned citizens to contact members of the Oregon Legislature to urge more funding for education.

Education funding is one of the issues I helped work on while serving as an aide during the 2005 legislative session in Salem. My former boss, Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, proposed a bill requiring the Legislature to fund education within the first 90 days of its session.

He felt that it was necessary in order to ensure certainty to local school districts and their budget committees, which are required by law to have their budgets finalized and adopted by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

There were other reasons for that proposal. Politicians know that education is an important issue to voters. Funding the state’s schools becomes politicized as a result, and is subjected to the same kind of gamesmanship that often causes disgust among the citizenry.

That bill was among many that did not pass during the 2005 session. Similar bills were proposed during the next session in 2007, and I got to witness firsthand what happens when education funding becomes politicized instead of prioritized.

I was assigned to cover a meeting of the Three Rivers School District budget committee in Josephine County. But despite having a firm deadline to pass its budget, the committee had to postpone its meetings because the education budget was still being treated like a political football in the halls of our state’s capitol.

Oregon’s 2011 session was held up nationally as a model of bipartisan cooperation, as the House was split 30-30 between Democrats and Republicans. In that atmosphere, legislation was finally passed to fund education first in the budget. Special interest groups lost their ability to hold education funding hostage, and districts throughout the state could prepare their budgets with much more certainty than they could otherwise.

For districts like Estacada and Three Rivers, that have faced years of budget cuts and attrition due to declining enrollment and factors beyond their control, it is critical that education funding be both predictable and adequate.

Although it must compete with growing human service needs and the high costs of maintaining an effective criminal justice system, it is the Legislature’s best opportunity to invest in the future.

Citizens must be actively involved in ensuring that lawmakers understand the need to put partisanship aside and do what is right by Oregon’s schools and their children.

Because of my experience as a legislative aide, I know for a fact that representatives and senators take seriously the calls, e-mails and letters they receive from their constituents.

Let’s do everything we can to make life easier for the people we charge with teaching our children on a daily basis, as well as the administrators and other hard-working professionals who help keep our public education system going, despite the many challenges that we all face together as members of a civilized society.

Scott Jorgensen is the associate editor for the Estacada News.

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