Community leaders gather for 'a hard conversation'
Town Hall focuses on ways to provide more resources for LO students
Students and teachers gathered with state, county and city officials last week for an Education Town Hall in Lake Oswego, and though their focuses were often different, they all seemed to want the same thing: more resources for kids.
Finding a solution to insufficient state funding for education dominated the meeting at City Hall, with suggestions ranging from reallocating more state funding to a tax specifically benefitting schools. The discussion began with Measure 5, which limited property tax revenues and made schools more reliant on state funding.
Its been 25 years since weve passed Measure 5 with the assumption that the Legislature would find some stable revenue source for schools, said Linda Brown, a Clackamas Education Service District board member. But its going to take all of us yelling, saying, Hey, we need revenue reform.
Brown was joined at the Town Hall by a state representative, a longtime teacher, a county commissioner, a Lake Oswego School Board member and a city councilor. Four Lake Oswego High School Political Action Seminar students were invited to speak, and they touched on issues including curriculum and cafeteria offerings.
One panelist, state Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego), told the crowd of about 50 people that she had sought out a spot on the House Committee on Revenue to look into tax reform. The 2015-17 biennium budget of about $7.4 billion offered more than in past starvation budgets for K-12 schools, Lininger said, but its not the place where some people hoped we could get.
I for one feel like we need more revenue for schools, she said. Im going to advocate for that.
Lininger talked about putting more existing general fund dollars toward schools. She also touched on a measure proposed for next years ballot that would increase the corporate minimum tax for businesses whose Oregon sales exceed $25 million each year. The revenue would benefit schools.
Its not on the ballot yet, Lininger said, but its going to be a key conversation and its going to be a hard conversation, so lets get ready to be thoughtful and kind to one another and think this through together.
City Councilor Joe Buck also stressed the importance of working together. Buck said the city, school district and Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce are like a three-legged stool when it comes to supporting education.
The No. 1 reason why families move to Lake Oswego is because of the schools, and the businesses need people to live in Lake Oswego; otherwise, they dont have customers, said Buck, who owns Babica Hen Cafe. So everyone works really well together, and that partnership is critical.
Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader said the county has more of a hand in supporting students than many people may realize. The countys Health, Housing and Human Services Department provides school-based clinics, she said, and theres a small grants program that this year is offering $250,000 to nonprofits serving vulnerable populations, such as children.
Those programs certainly help, panelists said, but they dont solve the funding problem. School board member John Wallin said 87 percent of the LOSDs $67.1 million in revenue in 2015-16 comes from the state; more than 11 percent is from a local option levy, and 2 percent is from the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation.
Of the districts $66.5 million in expenses in 2015-16, about 85 percent supports teachers and staff. Wallin said personnel should get most of the funding, but he wanted to stress how limited resources are, that a small amount of money is left over to keep the lights on.
He said the district is crafting a bond for the November 2016 ballot to address a backlog of deferred maintenance, and that there are a lot of things we put off that wed like to get to.
Later in the evening, panelists switched places with the Lake Oswego High students in the audience. Teachers union president and LOHS history teacher Laura Paxson-Kluthe introduced them.
Public education provides the greatest possible opportunity for the creating and sustaining of a democratic society and for the creating and engaging of active citizens, Paxson-Kluthe said. I want to hand it over to some active and engaged citizens who are here to give us their opinions.
Ari Manafi, a senior, told the crowd she wants to study Farsi because her father is from Iran. But the school doesnt offer the class, and the rules say shed need an instructor on hand who had mastered the skill if she wanted to try to learn it during independent study. Shed like that rule to change.
Megan Smith, a junior, said a womens studies course also would improve equality in education.
Sam Miller said theres just a garbage bin and plastic bottle recycling bin in the school cafeteria; a compost bin and other recycling receptacles would be an improvement, he said. Maddy Walsh said more funding for fresh food is what shed like.
Thats very important for kids, because if youre being fueled on Gatorade and Goldfish, its hard to focus; you dont feel good about yourself, said Walsh, a junior.
School Superintendent Heather Beck, school board members and City Councilor Jackie Manz were among those listening in the audience. So were a handful of Lake Oswego residents, including Tom Archer, who advocated for a sales tax benefiting schools.
We are leaving a billion dollars on the table because the sales tax would collect about a billion from out-of-state people, he said.
Lake Oswego parent Courtney Clements said she reaches out to legislators but has the same conversation every two years. Id like to see a long-term plan, she said, not just stumbling from biennium to biennium.
Lininger, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in the House in January 2014, said she would try to move the conversation forward.
It is a tedious conversation, but lets keep having it anyway, she said.
Toward the end, Wallin aimed to inspire the gathering.
When you leave this room, remember that you had this energy; you heard these ideas, he said. Tell other people. Lets make change.