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School board vote alters deal with ESD

The Hillsboro School District will take control of more state funding in the wake of a school board vote last month to change the school district’s service agreement with the Northwest Regional Education Service District.

The school district will receive about $4.1 million in state funds in the 2014-2015 school year as a pass-through from the ESD. Previously, this money was used for service credits, with the school district paying for a wide variety of services from a selection of ESD offerings, including categories such as migrant education, library management, mental health, autism services, sign language interpreting, nursing and speech language services.

“We want the flexibility to use the dollars in a way that works best for the district,” said School District Superintendent Mike Scott. “We will target those dollars in a comprehensive way to tailor services to our district’s needs.”

Unused service credits have been cashed out in the past, Scott said, and the action by the board is an extension of that process. The board voted to take 65 percent of the funds available under the state’s ESD funding formula, leaving 35 percent to be used for buying services offered by the ESD.

The primary difference in 2014-2015 will be in what are called “core” services, which the ESD provides to the 20 districts it serves. Core services fall under three general categories: technology, school improvement and special education administration.

Because of the school district’s size and support requirements, it already provides parallel services to the ESD, Scott said. Some of the funds spent on parallel technology services can be used elsewhere. Scott said the district’s priorities are shoring up student information services and the district-wide employee help desk.

According to Scott, the funds also could be used for professional development such as teacher training days, where the district would bring in substitute teachers to make staff teachers available to conduct training.

However, losing these funds will require the ESD to subsidize its programs for the other 18 smaller districts it serves, said ESD Superintendent James Sager.

“The economy of scale changes,” Sager said. “There is more ambiguity this year, because we don’t know what services Beaverton and Hillsboro still want to buy from us.”

The Northwest Regional ESD — which serves school districts in Washington, Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook counties — is one of 19 ESDs in Oregon. The state funding model for ESDs was established to provide teachers, specialists and support staff for districts that cannot afford to hire them.

“We view the dollars that come to the ESD as a benefit for all children in the region,” Sager said. “Our other 18 districts will lose resources, but they have recommitted their resources to provide a level of equity.”

During budget development next year, the school district will consider adding the positions it needs full-time, such as occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech language pathologists.

“This is not only a materials and hardware issue,” Scott said. “It’s also a people issue for us.”

The option to change the ESD service agreement was made possible by legislation approved by the Oregon Legislature in July. House Bill 3401 allows qualifying school districts to take cash instead of credits without completely withdrawing from an ESD.

The Beaverton School Board also voted last month to take 65 percent of its available funding in cash rather than service credits. The combined total of state money now bypassing the ESD and going directly to the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts is about $12 million.

The impact of the decisions made by the Hillsboro and Beaverton school boards is still being analyzed, Sager said, but he acknowledged it could result in a shuffling of ESD staff.

“Uncertainty causes people to look elsewhere,” Sager said. “We hope we get our people back and they are not hired by another district. We want to keep the people we have, because we have a good staff of employees.”



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