Officials hope Lake Oswegans support school phone-a-thon

It's too early to tell definitively, but one thing's for sure: The Lake Oswego School District's staffing situation needs all the support it can get.

The good news is that the school district foundation's annual phone-a-thon campaign, which will fund 31 to 33 teachers' salaries, officially launched on Feb. 21 and is about halfway to its goal of $2.2 million, said Mary Puskas, foundation director.

With that news in, Superintendent Bill Korach has his fingers crossed that the down-tick in the economy won't affect the great strides the district made last year.

'Last year's efforts allowed the district to turn the corner from survival to enhancement, allowed the district not only to save teaching positions but also to add teaching positions, and provided a long-awaited opportunity to reduce class sizes and add programs,' he said. 'Our goal now is to sustain what we have worked so hard to achieve.'

For the 2007-2008 school year, the foundation's campaign allowed the district to spend an extra $1 million on elementary staff and about $850,000 on secondary staffing.

The student-to-teacher ratio prior to last year was 1 to 28 in secondary schools, but after the foundation's successful 2007 campaign, the ratio went to 1 to 24.5.

The same is true in elementary schools, which had an average of 1 to 26 previous to the 2007-2008 school year. This year, kindergarten has a 1 to 21 ratio; grades 1 and 2 have a 1 to 22; and grades 3 to 6 have a 1 to 24 student-to-teacher ratio.

As a general rule, 'for every $65,000 that the foundation raises it provides the financial support for one teacher,' said Korach.

The $65,000 is the cost of salary and benefits for an average teacher - not a beginning teacher.

'(This year) we're seeing that we're having more people donating but the amount is a little less,' said Puskas. Two schools with higher participation than normal are Lake Grove Elementary and Lake Oswego Junior High with close to 70 percent parent involvement. 'We're feeling really encouraged by that,' said Puskas.

But with the downturn in the economy, the foundation could potentially feel the belt tighten, as well.

'When we've had a year where the economy is really down, the foundation doesn't do as well,' said Korach.

The district has been more dependent on the foundation since 1990's Measure 5 passed in Oregon. The measure limited the amount of money a school district can levy locally, and therefore created a centralized per pupil funding system in Salem.

'That was the catalyst to get us to be more aggressive,' said Puskas.

Though the foundation has been in existence since 1986, its success has grown over the years as the annual campaign became the centerpiece fundraiser.

Even then, however, the school district faced some dire straights when the economy was still struggling after 9/11. The district had to cut 23 positions, said Korach, and this was after the district dipped into $4 million it had in reserves.

Last year, the district made great strides in adding back, and the hope is that it can maintain its staffing levels for next year.

The first phase of the phone-a-thon campaign, which asks parents for support, is just wrapping up; and the second phase, which approaches community members at large will be from April 8 to 10.

Volunteers will call any previous donors, alumni and businesses asking for their support.

The annual phone-a-thon campaign is the foundation's biggest fundraiser, but they also have business programs, Realtor and lending programs, corporate matching funds and an endowment fund.

To donate, send contributions to the foundation at 2455 S.W. Country Club Road, P.O. Box 70, Lake Oswego, OR 97034 or phone 503-534-2302.

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