The state’s K-through-12 education cuts may not be as severe as some worried.
But school superintendents are still scrambling to balance the books.
Today, we’ll look at how two similar districts are handling the budget very differently.
According to the federal Department of Education, Lake Oswego and Redmond have the same number of schools – and almost exactly the same number of students.
Yet, one district is doing okay – and the other faces draconian cutbacks.
OPB’s Rob Manning will take a tour of Lake Oswego’s schools. But first, Ethan Lindsey studied up on Redmond.
It’s the last week of classes for many high-school students across the state.
Whitney Helikson is an 18-year-old senior at Redmond High School.
As she talks, she looks up, anxiously, at the clock in the middle of the school commons.
Whitney Helikson: “This is my last day. I have...oh...45 minutes left in class.”
You could say that Helikson is getting out at the right time.
Some Oregon school districts are thinking teacher layoffs, others reduced music and arts instruction.
Redmond’s School District is cutting almost all of the above – and is on the verge of becoming the largest school district in the state to do approve a 4-day school week.
Senior Whitney Helikson says the crazy part is, Redmond already feels squeezed.
Whitney Helikson: “Our leadership class has 50 people in there. You’ll have to borrow chairs from other classrooms just to fit a classroom.”
Redmond successfully dealt with that problem.
Last year, the district won over community support for a $110 million school bond to build a new high school.
But just as they climbed that peak, the school looked straight down into the economic chasm.
Vicki Fleming is the Redmond schools superintendent.
Vicki Fleming: “It’s hard for people to understand that we did pass a $110 million bond to build a second high school which these communities have wanted for a long time. And you can’t spend that money to operate your school system, so we very well could be in the situation of having a brand new school, and no money to operate it.”
Now the school district wants to eliminate specialized music and P.E. teachers in the elementary schools, and cut 78 jobs.
The 4-day school week would take away teachers' prep periods during the school day.
Vicki Fleming: “Hopefully the student impact is mitigated, but the solution comes on the backs of teachers.”
Fleming says this isn’t some ‘Oh, poor little Redmond’ sob story. It’s just the way education is funded in Oregon today.
It all goes back to the state’s taxpayer revolt of the 1990s.
Neil Bryant: “It shifted the way we did business as a state.”
Neil Bryant is a former Republican state senator from Bend. He helped draft the educational finance framework that moved away from locally-funded schools.
In the past, local districts were able to raise – and spend – as much as they wanted.
But with the state footing the bill, complications arose.
Neil Bryant: “If the state was going to provide the money, that had to be equalized better. Not perfect, but better.”
The wealthier districts sued, but the court ruled for the state.
Still, some school districts have developed new ways to break the budget box.
They’ve raised additional local taxes – and set up charitable foundations.
Bryant sees that as a success. He says parents that are willing to pay more for their kids’ education, should be able to.
That’s not a solution for Redmond, where voters have repeatedly rejected any additional taxes for school operations.
And the school’s $227,000 foundation isn’t anywhere near rich enough to make up the shortfall.