Chalkboard Project's plan has some strong ideas; not all would work in Lake Oswego

Providing more money to Oregon's underfunded public schools is a worthy cause unto itself. Allocating those dollars with specific outcomes in mind is an even better objective.

That's the approach the Oregon Chalkboard Project took as it prepared its 2007 legislative priorities for improving K-12 student and school performance. The Legislature should give significant consideration to the Chalkboard Project's work and consider adopting some of the group's recommendations.

There is a concern, however, with trying to come up with 'a one-size-fits-all mandate,' notes Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Bill Korach.

'I know they mean well,' he says of the Chalkboard effort, 'but I don't like them telling us how to earmark our funds.'

Korach leads a school system that's in the uppermost stratosphere of school districts in the state. His opinion is valid: Why tinker with success? Obviously there are districts that would be helped by the Chalkboard plan. Lake Oswego probably is not one of them.

'Anything you do to solve a statewide problem isn't going to fit Lake Oswego all the time,' he said.

The Chalkboard Project's proposals also could run into opposition from what at first would seem an unlikely source - the education lobby. Unions, school boards and even administrators may fear the loss of local control if the Legislature mandates ideas such as capping class sizes in kindergarten and first grade, or requiring greater financial accountability from school districts.

But one thing school lobbyists should appreciate is a group that's done its homework. On that score, the Chalkboard Project has earned its credibility.

Chalkboard's legislative agenda emerges from the group's three-year effort to study and offer strategies to improve K-12 education. More than 100 business leaders, educators and involved citizens from all parts of Oregon are participating in the project.

The project was funded by five charitable foundations that have raised and distributed millions of dollars over the years to enhance Oregon communities, including schools.

The Chalkboard Project's leaders are not overreaching with their 2007 legislative priorities, which include:

n Creating early learning success by reducing class sizes to 15 in kindergarten and first grade, and by providing tutors to third-graders who are not reading at grade level. Korach notes that while the lowering class size proposal is laudable, it would generate some serious space problems for the district.

n Ensuring educator excellence by providing mentors to new teachers and administrators, and by linking staff training to student achievement.

n Saving money through better financial practices.

n Providing not only better school funding, but guaranteed levels of funding per student. This final recommendation is vital because it can establish a baseline for the future, giving legislators a school-funding starting point during each budget cycle.

We understand why the Chalkboard Project's initiatives may cause uneasiness among school boards, unions and administrators. Mandates from Salem do erode local control. But the day is gone when most Oregon school districts had such control. Like it or not, that changed with Measure 5 in 1990. We like the idea of adequate and dependable school funding; we are not so keen on the notion that the state should tell the school districts how to operate.

The Chalkboard Project is advocating that its legislative priorities be accomplished within Gov. Ted Kulongoski's proposed school budget of $6.06 billion - an amount 14 percent higher than current spending.

We believe the Chalkboard priorities represent a fair deal for taxpayers. Schools will receive more, but they also will be asked to do more to improve student performance and financial accountability.

We just trust that when all the smoke settles, a strong school district such as Lake Oswego will remain strong and won't have to deal with unwise state mandates.

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