COUNT fundraiser runs through May 31, with a phone-a-thon Sunday

The West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation is in the middle of its annual fundraising effort — the COUNT campaign — to raise money for classroom teaching positions. by: SUBMITTED - Kathryn Whittaker stands outside Boones Ferry Primary School with her children, from left, front row: Keaton and Kullen, back: Kenley and Kylie.

The foundation is letting parents know that the district’s 8,707 students are counting on them to make a difference.

For one family, the Whittakers of Wilsonville, these are the numbers that count: four children, three schools and six years in Wilsonville schools.

Parent Kathryn Whittaker, who serves as the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation’s president, said, “We moved into this district in the summer of 2007, and when our children started school that fall, we thought that their classrooms were about the right size. They could access their teachers.”

Six years later, Whittaker said, things are dramatically different. Her daughter, Kylie, has 38 students in her AP English class at Wilsonville High School, while her son, Keaton, has 38 students in his eighth-grade social studies class. Those numbers count too, Whittaker said. Class sizes at her younger children’s primary school also have inched up.

“Our children are tolerating it, but this is not why we moved here. It profoundly affects their ability to interact with teachers and really feel part of a class,” she said.

What changed? Since school funding was centralized in Salem in 1990, all Oregon schools have been limited to the funds the state allocates to them each year on a per-student basis. Those state funds have been declining over the past 10 years. School districts like West Linn-Wilsonville have the ability to supplement state funding with revenue from local tax options. Because those local option taxes are based on real estate values, however, revenues have decreased dramatically, from a high in 2008 of more than $7.5 million to less than $3 million this school year.

“In 2008 we had about 70 teachers that we don’t have anymore,” Deputy Superintendent Jane Stickney said. “As much as our community voted to supply that (funding), declining real estate values have shrunk.”

The district collected $7.8 million in 2008-09 and only $2.8 million for 2012-13. That amount has decreased steadily since 2008 so now there is a $5 million difference between what was collected in 2008-09 and what was collected this year.

This $5 million dollar difference is due to the effect of compression (assessed rate catching up with market value). For a local option levy the rate of tax is applied only to the difference between the assessed rate and the market value. Since the assessed rate is increasing 3 percent each year and the market values are decreasing, the amount available to be taxed through the local option has decreased each year.

Despite the budget downturns, some things have stayed the same in West Linn-Wilsonville schools, Whittaker said. “We still have great curriculum, school buildings and excellent teachers. But more and more, we have to spread the resources around.”

The financial outlook in West Linn-Wilsonville seems to be stable for now, according to Superintendent Bill Rhoades. He anticipates state funding at a level of $6.75 billion, and if it materializes, the district hopes to avoid further cuts to staffing or programs.

Discussing Rhoades’s message, Stickney notes that for the past two years, the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation has provided funding for the equivalent of two teachers’ salaries. “Stability” she said, means maintaining those positions. “We are grateful that the foundation was able to provide those funds two years ago and maintain it in the current year. We are hopeful that the foundation will be able to meet its goal this year.”

That goal is ambitious. Whittaker said the Foundation historically has received contributions from about 16 percent of families in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District but is looking to increase participation in this year’s COUNT campaign. The foundation is reaching out to parents and local businesses and industries too. A per-student donation of $125, Whittaker said, would allow the foundation to collect $1 milliion.

“That could mean the equivalent of one teacher per school,” she said.

The school district uses the money the foundation raises to relieve the most dramatic overcrowding situations in schools. “We are looking for the shortest class-size range possible across grade bands,” Stickney said. “Our greatest interest and highest responsibility is to create equitable staffing across schools.”

As president of the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation, Whittaker knows that parents already make their efforts count.

“People are so generous to donate time and energy to schools,” she said. “Parent groups buy technology so every student has access to a mini or an iPad. But there’s still only one teacher. Kids’ ability to interact with and get direct feedback from teachers is lacking. That’s where the foundation can make a difference.”

The foundation’s COUNT campaign will run through the end of May, with every tax-deductible donation the foundation receives by May 31 counting toward its goal. A phone-a-thon is planned for Sunday, and Whittaker said she is looking for volunteers to make calls. She urges those interested in volunteering or in learning more to visit the foundation’s website at

“The reason I support the foundation with both my time and my resources,” Whittaker said, “is that I believe that every child gets only one chance to be a first-grader, an eighth-grader or a high school junior. I do not believe that year should be compromised because of a downturn in the economy or a change in the political climate. Any and every school year is just too important to a child and his or her development and learning. I am grateful that we have an education foundation that can help stabilize school funding issues so that every child’s school year can be as successful as possible.”

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