School board recognizes retiring faculty
Nine retiring teachers and faculty were thanked and honored for their service in the Oregon Trail School District. At the Monday, June 12, meeting, principals from several district schools took a moment to say a few words about each staff member who will leave their schools next week. Also honored with them was board Chairman Terry Lenchitsky, who has served as a member of the board for more than 30 years.
"The void is big on many fronts," Superintendent Aaron Bayer said. "He's more than just a school guy, he's a community guy ... the list goes on and on and on. Thank you, sir."
Lenchitsky introduced successor Robert Lee at the meeting, saying, "I'm proud of (the board). They've accomplished a lot, and I hope they'll do just as well in the future," before uttering, "I'd like to call this meeting of the Oregon Trail School District to order" for the second-to-last time.
Finances were the main talk of the meeting Monday night, as Tim Belanger made two presentations — one on the district proposed budget and one on the refinancing process for the district's bond.
Oregon Trail district budget
Belanger mentioned several legislative items currently under discussion, which could affect the Oregon Trail budget, including Senate Bill 5517 and Measure 98. Senate Bill 5517 appropriates dollars from the state general fund to the Department of Education to fund schools, and Measure 98, which passed last year, requires state funding of career and technical education (CTE) courses in high schools.
A percentage for how much of individual CTE programs the state will fund is currently on the table at the state level, but the Oregon Trail School District has budgeted for the event that the state decides to fund at 50 percent.
Belanger explained that the district has prepared to receive its minimum proposed budget of $8.2 billion, and that even if it should receive more funding than expected, that money will not be readily used.
"We've proven to have good future vision in the district," he said, explaining that the district is aware of and would plan accordingly for more PERS increases in the near future.
Bayer noted that he had spoken with Rep. Mark Johnson and Sen. Chuck Thomsen, and is confident the district's budget is realistic and can be adhered to.
"We have no intention of doing anything different than we've always done," Bayer added to Belanger's comment, saying that even if new avenues of revenue came into play and more funding was dispersed, the district would "stay the course."
"It doesn't benefit our people, our students, to ride the rollercoaster," he said.
That said, the district makes it clear it has not had to cut any teaching positions or programs, as many others in the state have, because of its modest and conservative budgeting practices.
The board will vote on the budget for the next biennium during its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, June 26.
The budget is available to view online at oregontrailschools.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Budget-Document-Proposed-2017-18-1.pdf.
District bond refinancing
Besides the routine budget process, the school district has recently been in the process of refunding its 2008 general obligation bond, which provided the district with $114.9 million to construct the new high school and upgrade other school facilities.
In short, Belanger and staff have been searching for a third party to purchase the debt of the district so it can refinance and replace the bond will less expensive options.
The district pursued a Net Present Value (NPV) savings of 7 percent of the existing costs, which pencils out to around $7.4 million.
After months of meetings with financial advisors and underwriters, and achieving an increased credit rating of AA in the process, the district received a NPV of 13 percent or $10.11 million in savings over 15 years.
In the end, for the taxpayers, this means a 31 cent per $1,000 of property value tax rate decrease in 2019-2020.
In other news:
n Retiring curriculum director Debbie Johnson presented the new middle school science curriculum to the board for approval of adoption. The schools have been piloting the curriculum since spring break, and Johnson says the feedback has been positive. The program is 100 percent digital and "designed specifically for next generation science standards."
Johnson also dissuaded concerns about accessibility for students without means of getting on the web at home by explaining that the district had explored options for additional open computer lab time and downloadable materials.
The board approved the adoption of the curriculum unanimously.
n Bayer presented that preliminary district-wide data shows that Oregon Trail School District's test scores have exceeded the state average.
"It's a testament to our teachers, our classified folks, our kids, parents, administrators, that despite all the missed days they continue to persevere," he noted. "Their hard work has paid off. In the face of that adversity, our folks stepped up and did an absolutely amazing job, making sure our kids were learning in conditions in which they could succeed."
n Media specialist and union President Carrie Scaife shared comments in her certified staff report about the impending PERS hikes and how it affects teachers.
"It's been a rough year ... but I'm excited about the new Cedar Ridge building from a union perspective and a teacher perspective ... It's also important to me that Oregon state's budget not rest on my retirement," she explained, adding to Belanger's earlier comments about the district's financial plans to deal with PERS. "Obviously we want more money. Obviously we want our schools to be funded. Obviously we want our kids to get the education they deserve, but I shouldn't pay for that with my retirement. I just wanted that perspective out there," she said.
n Principal Tara Black gave the principal's report, noting how Firwood Elementary School has fared through the last year. She highlighted how many grade levels have exceeded state averages in reading and math test scores, and that the number of behavioral issues has decreased in the school.