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County saves teachers, music programs


Tigard-Tualatin schools benefit from thousands in Gain Share funds

by: TIMES PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - A student holds a sign asking the school board to 'keep the arts core in TTSD schools.' Although the programs are saved for now, many are concerned they will be cut after new funding dries up in 2015.Parents in Tigard-Tualatin schools have won a battle in the fight to keep the arts funded, thanks in large part to new money from Washington County.

More than 120 concerned parents, teachers and students packed the Tigard-Tualatin School Board meeting Monday, demanding that district leaders change their minds about a series of controversial cuts to next year’s school budget.

The district announced last week that it would lay off 4.5 teachers, cut more than two dozen open positions and would need to move more than a dozen staff members around as a way to help carve $2 million from its 2013-14 budget.

Two of those transfers included the choir directors at Twality Middle School and Tualatin High School, who would be moved to local elementary schools. Band directors and drama teachers at Twality and Tualatin would take over as choir directors at the schools, with rippling consequences to other programs, including the probable elimination of Twality’s annual spring musical.

The changes brought forth a firestorm of activity from parents and students determined to keep the programs intact.

Petitions were circulatedand School Board members’ inboxes were flooded with emails begging for them to reconsider the proposed cuts.

Their prayers were seemingly answered Monday, when incoming superintendent Ernie Brown announced the district would leave the choir programs alone as well as recall the 4.5 teachers laid off, thanks to new money from the county’s Gain Share reimbursement from the state.

Gain Share is a tax abatement program passed by the Legislature in 2007. The program allows counties to wave millions of dollars in property taxes to lure businesses to the area. In exchange, the county receives an equal split of the state income taxes generated by new jobs from those businesses.

Washington County’s portion of funding came from companies such as Genentech and Intel. The county is expected to make about $53 million from Gain Share over the next two years.

“This was very positive news today,” Brown said of the county sharing a portion of those funds with local schools. “Obviously, this allows us to address the areas of greatest concern, but those aren’t the only areas of concern.” 

Washington County Commission Chairman Andy Duyck and Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey announced last week that the two government agencies would voluntarily pay $10 million to local schools over the next two years.

Brown said the district was expected to receive more than $700,000 annually until 2015, enough to recall the 4.5 licensed staff members who received layoff notices as well as address the music programs at Twality and Tualatin.

In all, a part-time elementary physical education teacher, a part-time music teacher, 1.5 business teachers and two high school art teachers will have their layoff notices rescinded.

“We believe that local schools deserve special consideration and additional funding to deal with the increased growth that comes with economic investment and a growing population,” Duyck said in a statement.

‘Walking proof

by: TIMES PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - Parents, students and teachers crowded the small meeting room, spilling out into the hallways and sitting on the floor to find room. The district announced Monday that the choir programs would be spared, thanks to a promise made by Washington County and the city of HillsboroThe temporary funding is great news, but interim Superintendent Roger Rada said that without more reform from Salem, the district could just be delaying the inevitable.

“We are running some risk in relying on (Gain Share money) to make expenditure decisions,” Rada said. “However, we felt that it was important to take on this risk so that we didn’t have employees heading home for the summer not knowing if they had a job next year.”

Dressed in red, students and parents spoke for hours on Monday, applauding the School Board for its hard work to restore the programs and making it clear how important programs like choir and drama can be.

Connie Brown, a Bull Mountain mother of four whose children attended Twality Middle School, said that while the music programs are safe for now, they are still in jeopardy once the Gain Share money runs out.

“It’s constant, and it’s not going away,” she said. “We face this every year. I hate to use the word ‘fight’ because we want to work with the district so we can affect change and work with them rather than fight them.”

With the two years of funding, Brown said she and others plan to set up an advocacy group to keep pressure on the School Board not to cut the arts and to find sustainable funding for what she calls a vital part of a student’s education.

“We have got to make it known how important these programs are to them,” she said. “It’s sad to think that you have to fight for every program, but with as slim as the dollars are now, if you aren’t fighting for your kids’ programs, nobody else is going to.”

Tualatin High School student Amy Lichtenstein said the drama programs at Twality were what kept her going to school.

Lichtenstein, who has Attention Deficit Disorder, said she got mostly D’s and F’s in school until she joined the school’s drama program.

“They are a huge part of why kids go to school and have a desire to learn,” she said, choking back tears. “If we don’t have programs like these, then we lose the desire to do well in school. It’s not that it is just a fun thing to do, we do it because it is what we love to do and it helps us to do well in school. I am walking proof of that.”

The School Board is expected to approve next year’s budget at a special meeting on June 20.

Open positions could also be filled

by: TIMES PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - Twality Middle School drama teacher Kathy Thielen applauds after the distrcit announces that choir programs at her school will be saved. Under a plan by the district, she would have been forced to teach choir next year after the schools choir director was transfered to another school.

While Gain Share money will help keep 4.5 employees from being laid off, it does nothing to restore the 21 other positions cut as part of next year’s budget.

The positions are currently open, and the district said it would not hire anyone to fill those jobs — including 13 teaching positions — in order to save money.

“Those positions span all grade levels and most subject matters,” said incoming superintendent Ernie Brown, including positions in home economics, technology, foreign language, math, science and special education.

Hard numbers aren’t yet available, but the district expects about 17 teachers to be reassigned to a different subject matter or grade next year. Some would be transferred to a different school in order to offset those cuts.

“Some of those transfers are problematic,” Brown said. “Whether it’s the individual who is concerned or the school where that person is leaving. They care about them and want to keep them there.”

Interim Superintendent Roger Rada said there is a way to save those positions, if plans in Salem come to fruition.

The Legislature is working to allocate more money to K-12 education before it approves the budget at the end of this month.

“If that happens, this would be the first year in five that we wouldn’t have to cut staff,” said Rada. “That would be terrific for our kids.”

The Legislature is in talks now that could see additional revenue and savings totaling $250 million for K-12 education. That would mean roughly $2 million for Tigard-Tualatin, enough to bring back all the other positions cut from this year’s budget.

“I was going to say that we should keep our fingers crossed,” Rada said. “But rather, I’ll say that we must call or email our legislators and let them know how important it is that they produce additional revenues and PERS savings.”