School board members have thankless jobs. They volunteer the time spent at meetings, talking to district residents and studying issues confronting their schools. They face extremely difficult decisions.
The Roseburg School Board is likely dealing with its most daunting decision yet — whether to close one of its nine elementary schools as a way to address a funding shortfall amid decreasing enrollment.
It appeared the board had decided to close a school. It just didn’t know which one, but four were possibilities. Testimony offered at a forum last Wednesday night gave the board jitters. Impassioned pleas from elementary school students and parents who love their schools and don’t want to see any of them closed caused the board to doubt its previous conclusion.
Instead, they saw the residents’ opposition to school closure as energy that could be harnessed to resurrect another discarded idea: Passage of a bond levy.
We want everything to be rosy in the Roseburg School District, but let’s look at some realities. In February of 2011, an independent poll showed voters were unlikely to approve a $4 million levy, especially those 60 and older. That age group makes up a generous portion of our population.
Last year, the board again ruled out a bond levy proposal after an Umpqua Community College levy was crushed by voters and community members failed to get behind a campaign drive.
Now that parents, teachers and students are upset because they feel their schools are being pitted against one another, is that a reason to ask for more tax money? We don’t think so.
These folks don’t want to see an elementary school close. The levy talks have been about raising taxes to fund the purchase of curriculum and technology and to maintain district buildings. Those are two different conversations.
Does it have to be close a school or raise taxes? That depends on the level of funding determined by the Oregon Legislature. If it matches the governor’s budget, $6.4 billion for the next biennium for public schools, the district might be able to forgo both, but that’s up to the school board.
The district has made cuts since the 2008-09 school year. More than 75 positions, including 44 teachers, have been let go. No cost-of-living adjustments have been given since 2009-10. The next two years brought furlough days for all employees, who are also picking up more of their health insurance costs.
Summer school has been eliminated and spending on curriculum and technology has been reduced by nearly $2 million over the past four years.
Facing the district this summer is another $2 million payment to the Public Employees Retirement System so it can meet its future obligations.
With such uncertainty in funding and so little time to prepare a bond levy campaign prior to the May ballot, district residents would be wise to put their efforts elsewhere. If they can’t make the existing funding work, they need our legislators to come through. But without seeing increasing enrollment, which equals more state funding, school closure is likely to remain on the table.