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Legislature doesn't make Clackamas, OC, Gladstone schools 'whole'

Five bipartisan bills that the Oregon Legislature passed on Wednesday through a “grand bargain” to raise revenue, lower public-pension costs and make the state the regulator of agriculture seeds won’t save an elementary school from closing next year in the Rex Putnam High School feeder area, but it will restore some of the teachers and school days that have been cut over the past couple decades.

Oregon’s K-12 schools will receive $100 million in additional funding starting in the 2014/15 school year, which amounts to slightly more than a 1 percent increase in school funding statewide.

That will mean an increase of about $1.3 million in revenue for the North Clackamas School District, equal to approximately three additional school days or approximately 15 teaching positions. But NCSD is still down 210 teachers, its fund balance remains below its 5 percent target, and it still has six student furlough days.

“Therefore, we must continue to look for financial efficiencies throughout our system,” said Superintendent Matt Utterback. “This includes a school closure for next year.”

Closure of an elementary school would generate about $450,000 in annual savings beginning in 2014-15. Thanks to an improving financial picture, NCSD announced last month that it will restore two staff furlough days and add staff members to address increased enrollment in the district, while Utterback cautioned that the district still has a “long hill to climb from our financial abyss.”

For Oregon City School District, the legislation will likely mean an approximate $1.5 million boost and the ability to restore a full school calendar in 2014-15, or at least get very close to restoring seven furlough days affecting OCSD this year. Two of these furlough days were for direct student contact, two were for professional development and three were for parent conferences. Superintendent Larry Didway said all of these days are important for teaching and learning, school improvement initiatives and parent involvement.

“We are grateful for this extraordinary support of public education,” Didway said. “While today’s vote does not solve Oregon’s school funding problems, or help districts add back all the programs and staff that have been cut as state support has declined over years, it is another important step in the right direction toward stable and adequate K-12 funding in Oregon.”

For the Gladstone School District, Superintendent Bob Stewart estimates the “grand bargain” will provide approximately $350,000 in the next school year.

“Because the Legislature did not place requirements on how districts can use this money, we have the opportunity to address some pressing needs, such as staffing, technology or textbooks,” Stewart said.

Starting this winter, as Gladstone schools plan their 2014-15 budget, Stewart will ask for input from parents, teachers, support staff and administrators on our greatest areas of need. In a letter to staff on Thursday, he committed to careful assessment of student needs “to ensure the most strategic use” of the funds.

“We are very grateful for the opportunity to take another positive step,” Stewart wrote. “Added funds will not make us whole, but it is another step in the right direction.”

State Rep. Shemia Fagan (D-East Portland/Clackamas) is a former school-board member who voted for the one-time funding. She pledged to advocate for revenue packages in the future that would provide larger, continuous school-funding sources.

“We have to keep working at it and keep moving to a sustainable funding situation for our schools,” Fagan said. “It should not be a boom-and-bust cycle, but parents should be able to expect stable and adequate funding for schools.”