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Funding plan could cause $2.4 million shortfall

Forest Grove school officials visit Salem to lobby for more money


Forest Grove High School principal Karen O’Neill (Robinson) doesn’t think in terms of millions and billions of dollars when it comes to school funding.

She thinks in terms of students and teachers.

As state legislators debate the level at which to fund public schools, O’Neill, principals at other schools in the district, and budget committee members are scurrying to prepare for next school year.

The message coming from Salem is that lawmakers want to move quickly to determine school funding for the 2015-17 biennium.

At the same time, Forest Grove and other school districts are scrambling to get the message to legislators to invest in the future of Oregon’s public schools. A contingent representing Forest Grove schools was in Salem March 11 and again Tuesday to testify in front of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education.

Mireya Rosas, the FGHS representative to the Forest Grove School Board, said so many people showed up to testify at the March 11 hearing that she didn’t get a chance to speak. “They took the people who traveled the farthest first,” Rosas said. She returned to Salem Tuesday.

At the funding level proposed by the Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairs — $7.23 billion — the Forest Grove School District would face a $2.4 million shortfall for next school year. For O’Neill, that translates to fewer teachers, fewer options and larger classes for her students.

Forest Grove High was just beginning to recover from budget cuts made in 2010-11, when 16 teaching positions, several programs and numerous elective options were cut.

This year, O’Neill said, a counselor was added back at the high school, bringing the student-to-counselor ratio to 450-to-1. “It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. As a whole, the district is still 62 positions short of where it was before budget cuts began in 2008-09.

Rosas, a senior, is the last class of students in Forest Grove who attended Outdoor School.

“To this day I can still remember all of the lesson I learned,” Rosas told the committee. “Next year will be the first year that no student at Forest Grove High School will have any knowledge of Outdoor School,” she added.

At a slightly higher funding level of $7.5 billion, Forest Grove’s budget gap would still be $1.1 million short of what’s needed to maintain staffing current levels and add full-day kindergarten, a funding scenario Superintendent Yvonne Curtis called a “fragile stability.”

With Common Core standards come higher academic expectations for students, O’Neill said. Core classes at the high school — classes required for graduation, like language arts, math and social studies — already have 35 to 40 students on their rosters. Simply put, O’Neill said, “Taking another (funding reduction) would be devastating.”

O’Neill fears additional budget cuts would send a message to students that education isn’t valued. The same is true for teachers, she said. “Morale takes a hit” as workload increases, she explained.

The effects trickle down to individual students. “Every year we prolong funding (education) is another year lost,” Rosas said.

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