Wary of voters turning down an $8 million levy, the Roseburg School Board was split during a work session Wednesday on whether to pursue the tax increase, despite the threat of further budget cuts.
Board members said they were especially discouraged by a lackluster community response to efforts over the summer to mount a fall campaign. As a result, the board decided in August to move the five-year levy, which would raise property taxes by 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, from the November to the May ballot.
The board was unanimous last spring when it decided to seek a levy, but members were torn Wednesday on whether it would be worth the effort.
The board will further discuss the levy during a work session Nov. 14 before deciding whether to pursue it.
If the levy passes, the funding would help pay for much-needed technology, maintenance and curriculum, according to Roseburg School District officials.
“I really don’t want to push (a levy) if it’s not going to fly,” board member Charles Lee said. “This plan is one to keep the district going at the current service level. The curriculum and the maintenance and the technology have to be done, but we’re not offering the public a greatly improved school district because of the local option levy.
“I appreciate this plan as a way to stay afloat, but I see other ways. It doesn’t have the spark.”
Decreased state funding has forced the Roseburg School District to reduce its spending by more than $12 million in the past four years, according to the district.
The school board in February rejected a recommendation from an advisory committee to close either Rose or Green elementary schools to save $500,000 a year.
Board member Rodney Cotton said his support for the levy was tied to saving the district from having to close a school. He was among the board members who are encouraged by improving finances.
“The only reason why I supported a local option levy was to stop the school closure,” he said. “At this point in time, if there’s no school closure, I’m not in support of a local option levy.”
Chief Operations Officer Lance Colley said although the district is in better shape financially than it has been in years, it still desperately needs the support of a levy. A modest windfall of about $800,000 in state funding this summer allowed the district to eliminate staff furlough days, but there are many expenses the district has put off, he said.
“If you want to make a difference in kids’ lives, we need to buy curriculum next year,” he said. “We have no curriculum right now that fully meets state standards.”
Budget cuts may be coming down the line even with levy funding, said Colley, who will leave the school district next month to become Roseburg city manager.
“If the answer from our electorate is ‘no,’ you may have some really hard decisions to make. If the answer is ‘yes,’ you may have some hard decisions to make,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine further staff cuts so we can buy books.”
Board chairman Steve Patterson said he supports pursuing the levy.
“Personally, I think it would be irresponsible of us not to run a levy,” he said. “If we fail, we fail.”
Patterson said he’d like to see stronger support among the board members for the levy.
“If this board is split on this, that’s not going to be good,” he said.
Superintendent Larry Parsons agreed. The public response to the levy over the summer was also discouraging, he said.
“We had a tepid response this summer. Part of it was because it was summer,” he said. “When the public sees that we have a split board on this, that’s going to be a problem. I’ve never seen a board this split on a levy and that worries me.”
Board member Daniel Endicott said he supported the levy because it would be up to voters.
“I love the idea that it’s in control of the voters,” he said.
Cotton said for a levy to pass the public would have to know what would happen if it didn’t.
“We put a local option levy up and it fails, what other options do we have? We have to close a school,” he said. “Folks need to know if it doesn’t pass, there’s going to be consequences.”
Taxpayers are still paying off a 20-year district bond that passed in 2000. The $23 million bond paid for additions to Roseburg High School and improvements to other school buildings. The bond expires in 2021. The rate is 62 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, according to the Douglas County Assessor’s Office.
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.