Option levy, PERS reforms could be difference in staff and class sizes

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Aloha High School counselor Jen Townsley testifies during a Beaverton School District Budget Committee meeting against further staff cuts.Monday night at Sunset High School, Elizabeth Williams, a counselor at Beaver Acres Elementary School, related a recent tragedy in which a student was struck by a vehicle and killed near the school.

“It was a deadly accident, and the children saw the tragedy right in front of them,” she said. “Unfortunately, because of my schedule I wasn’t able to meet with them. To my knowledge, no one met with those children.”

Williams’ was one of several stories the Beaverton School District’s Budget Committee heard illustrating the strain and compromised priorities teachers, staff and students throughout the district have endured in the 2012-13 school year.

Before a small, restrained audience of about 40 people, the committee met at Sunset to initiate discussions for the proposed 2013-14 district budget.

Compared to last spring, when $37 million in cuts were on the table, the worst-case scenario isn’t as obviously dire, but anxiety over the outcome of a $15 million local option levy voters will face on May 21 is palpable. That, and the Oregon Legislature’s proposed reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System, are the key unknowns as the committee considers three budget scenarios.

The worst, and least likely outcome, according to Superintendent Jeff Rose, would be a $6.55 billion state school fund that would require the district to cut $11 million from the budget. The second, more likely, scenario would result from $200 million in PERS reform, leading to $5 million in total budget reductions.

In the third, best-case scenario, voter approval of the option levy would create $15 million in revenue. The first $3 million would maintain current levels of classroom teachers, with $12 million going toward adding 151 teachers and decreasing class sizes. The levy would cost taxpayers $1.25 per $1,000 of their assessed property value over a five-year period. The latter outcome wouldn’t be known before May 13, when the committee is set to approve the budget for the School Board’s consideration.

To illustrate the extremes in this year’s budget possibilities, Rose displayed a picture of a tranquil body of water below an expansive, blue horizon.

“We know last year’s reductions were not just last year’s,” he said. “It was the culmination of the last five years. And we’re feeling it very dramatically. However, this year’s budget is different. We’re trying with everything we can to look forward. We realize we have to emerge from underwater and set our sights on the TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A local option levy supported by voters in May could shift the budgeting process in the Beaverton School District.

Cautious hope

While some positions, such as intervention teachers to assist struggling middle school students, would still be reduced, the levy’s passage would increase rotations of library, music and physical education classes while adding teacher-librarians and music instructors. The levy would allow average student-teacher class-size ratios to increase from from 28-1 in 2013-14 to 26.5-1.

Based on $200 million in PERS reform and a $5 million district cut, the second budget scenario would increase student-teacher class-size ratios from 28-1 to 29-1 for kindergartners, and 30.5-1 to 31.4-1 for elementary grades one through five, as well as middle and high schools.

At the elementary school level, option two would add one instructional assistant position to each of the medium-sized schools to better align them with the allocation at small and larger schools. While .5 intervention teacher positions would be eliminated, 5.5 unallocated certified positions would be reserved to address schools that end up with the largest class sizes.

Levy passage would provide an additional 73.5 teachers at the elementary level as well as three certified music specialists on a four-to-six-day rotation, eliminating the current eight-day cycle. Fifteen unallocated certified positions would go to benefit exceptionally large classes.

Rafael Montelongo, principal of Bethany Elementary School, said the levy-based scenario points a way out of the current quagmire straining teachers, students and staff.

“I don’t believe any educator in this room believes this represents everything we would want for every student in the district,” he said. “But it gives us a reason for hope. I think a reason for a brighter future is what we need at this time.”

Touting the goal of adding two to four additional classroom teachers based on enrollment, while avoiding class size increases, Mountain View Middle School Principal Claudia Roof advocated a staffing ratio from the current 30.53 to 29.03 if the levy passes. Without the levy, the ratio would increase to 31.36 students. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Beaverton School District Superintendent Jeff Rose discusses three funding scenarios during a Budget Committee meeting at Sunset High Scool on Monday.

Students in need

The relatively brief visitor comments period included advocates from Beaverton Friends of Music calling for restoration of music programs along with guidance counselors expressing concerns that the emotional well-being of students was in jeopardy.

Jen Townsley, a counselor at Aloha High School, cited 59 students struggling with suicidal thoughts, 42 requiring drug and alcohol counseling and 170 homeless students — out of 400 in the entire district — at the school.

“In three years, we will have eliminated 5.1 (counselor) positions in our building alone,” she said, noting the school is eight students shy of qualifying for an additional counselor. “Aloha High School is the only high school not gaining a counselor next year. This is not equitable.

“The positions may have been eliminated,” she added, “but the work and responsibilities have not.”

In other business, the committee elected Kim Overhage as budget chairwoman and Susan Greenberg as vice-chairwoman.

The next budget meeting, which includes time for public input, is scheduled for Monday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the Beaverton High School cafeteria, 13000 S.W. Second St.

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