An open letter to our county commissioners, city councilors and the Oregon Legislature:

As school board members and recently elected board members in Washington County, we’ve just overseen another year of budget cuts in the majority of our districts. In nearly every place you look, you see cuts. In Hillsboro, we’re cutting 28 teachers and negotiating the cutting of five days of school. In Tigard, it’s 15 teachers.

In Sherwood, it’s three school days and 8.5 teaching positions.

In Beaverton, voters staved off $10 million in cuts by passing a new levy, but that’s on top of over 300 cut positions last year, and we will still cut four days this year. Hillsboro’s new cuts are on top of over 230 cut positions in the last five years.  

Some school districts are barely at sustainability after years of devastating cuts — sustainability in Forest Grove doesn’t get class size below 30 kids per classroom. Nearly every district in Washington County has more than 30 kids per class.  

These looming and lingering cuts are in stark contrast to a county that is an economic success story. We have new investments from Intel and Nike. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the state. We have local coffers that are booming — yet our schools and our budgets are still breaking.  

While it is easy for some to view local government surpluses as separate from the school districts’ budget deficit, they’re not. These school cuts make it harder for us to recruit families to live here and stay here.

Without strong schools, business has a more difficult time recruiting workers here. These shortfalls impact all of us, in all sectors, and school districts and local government should work together to fill the holes and start reinvesting.  

You cannot visit a classroom today and not see the impacts these cuts have had on our kids. One-on-one instruction is lost. The kids that struggle get left behind; the kids that could excel miss opportunities. The art classes and shop classes and FFA classes that might have kept kids engaged and involved in their school work simply are not available to everyone anymore, and there is nothing to take their place.

But there is a way for local governments to invest in our local school districts. Right now in the Oregon Legislature, there are proposals that would allow school districts to join local governments in recouping the lost property taxes dispersed in property tax abatements. 

In a new program, cities and counties currently get reimbursed by the state for local abatements. Even though school districts also lose these tax dollars, they are currently not a part of the formula for state reimbursement. Giving schools 40 percent of the reimbursement program called “Gain Share” would close many of the budget holes that our Washington County schools are currently facing. It would likely mean we wouldn’t have 15 teachers laid off in Tigard. Or three days cut in Sherwood.  

The time to act is now. There is money to go around, both at the local and state level. Rather than balancing any single budget, we should be more concerned with working together to balance our entire community. This will reap dividends, both civic and economic, greater than we can even imagine.

Karen Cunningham, Beaverton

Jill Zurschmeide, Tigard-Tualatin

Rebecca Lantz, Hillsboro

Carolyn Ortman, Hillsboro

Mary VanderWeele, Beaverton

LeeAnn Larsen, Beaverton

Sarah Smith, Beaverton

Anne Bryan, Beaverton

Kate Grandusky, Forest Grove

Barry Albertson, Tigard-Tualatin

Maureen Wolf, Tigard-Tualatin

Donna Tyner, Beaverton

Bob Smith, Tigard-Tualatin

Glenn Miller, Hillsboro

Dana Terhune, Tigard-Tualatin

Laurie Schlegel, Banks

Contract Publishing

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