Roseburg Public Schools projects scheduled to be completed during the summer and beyond have been put on hold to give the school board time to reflect on the failed school bond measure and the state budget forecast.
Physical Plant Manager Tracy Grauf said summer projects would cost about $850,000 and would include polishing concrete, installing cameras, redoing kitchen floors, painting, roofing and other maintenance projects that are easier to complete without students in buildings.
The school district has the money to complete those projects, but with an expected budget shortfall due to the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, school board chair Joe Garcia asked to put those projects on pause, during Wednesday’s building and sites committee meeting.
“Without the board saying what our plan is for making possible reductions for next year, unless something is an emergency, it feels like we’ve got the cart before the horse,” Garcia said.
State economists said Wednesday that they expect $2.7 billion less for the two-year budget period than they projected in March. Lawmakers have not yet made any decisions regarding a revised state budget and how much money the state will be set aside for education.
Additionally, Oregon’s new corporate activity tax, which would fund education under the Student Success Act, is projected to come in $414 million short of the projected $2 billion budget this biennium.
The committee also discussed post bond safety and security. Roseburg Public Schools had a $94 million bond levy on the May ballot that failed to pass.
Those within the boundaries of the school district voted 52.24% to deny the measure that was said to focus “on increasing safety and security, renovation and repairs, technology infrastructure, improved learning environments, and building upgrades at several schools.”
There was a 40.91% voter turnout for the May election, which received 6,749 votes in favor and 7,382 in opposition of the bond levy that would have raised taxes by 63 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.
“As we take a look at our proposed budgets for next year and potential reductions I still think those safety and security investments we were intending to make through the bond still will remain a priority and I just want to have a discussion here on what we can do,” said Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon. “Because the bond wasn’t successful our interest in having secure schools remains unchanged with that.”
Garcia said the district has a responsibility to focus on making sure kids are safe, but to also listen to the community that elects the school board.
“Our community just spoke loud and clear last night, that safety and security for our kids right now is not a priority,” Garcia said. “What is a priority is making sure that we are keeping people employed. So the fact that we are looking to spend money, which is why I brought up the projects over the summer some of which will enhance safety and security, isn’t really something that should be our highest priority. In my opinion we’ve been provided the direction by the community that we need to reduce cuts to staff if at all possible.”
In a conversation with Garcia the day after the meeting, he said that the school board has a responsibility to do what’s best for the community.
“Sometimes people forget that the role of the board is to listen and include community input,” Garcia said Thursday. “We need to be mindful of that responsibility and include that in our decision making process. My comments were intended to support the decision of the community and make sure their voice was being heard.”
He said he’d like to look closer at the election results, along with the rest of the school board, before making any further decisions regarding the future of a bond.
“The community spoke loud and clear about it,” Garcia said Wednesday. “I think as a board we need to have some dialogue about what that means, because we kind of got some marching orders on how to proceed.”
Garcia said that the political action committee, Vote YES for Roseburg Schools, had committed to support the district if it decides to move forward with a future bond measure. Community outreach, which is typically done by knocking on doors and attending community events, was difficult to do due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Building and sites committee chair Howard Johnson said, “We as a board have to show extreme professionalism in the rejection of our levy bond and how we handle that professionally will bode well for us when we go back to the voters in the future to receive funds. If we take this with a negative chip on our shoulder they’re gonna remember so let’s do this most professional way so we can get the best long-term results out of this whole issue.”
District Safety Coordinator Ed Villarreal applied for a $197,000 grant through the Department of Justice, and hopes to continue with training, drills, chainlink fencing at the middle schools, installing cameras and lighting.
“We’ll do the best with what we’ve got to make this work,” Villarreal said.
The school district has a budget committee meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday and a school board meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Agendas and access code for those virtual meetings are available on the district website at www.roseburg.k12.or.us.