Local Option: Vote yes to continue local schools’ funding

Hood River County School District has benefitted since 2004 from funding of two prior local option levies. The latest proposed levy on the Nov. 6 ballot, Measure 14-48, also deserves a yes vote.

Oregon public school funding is primarily controlled by the legislature, which in 1999 signed into law the local option. It allows communities to make local funding decisions for their schools, essentially providing additional funding.

Hood River schools first benefitted from the law in 2004, when a three-year local option levy was approved. The current, five-year levy was passed by voters in 2008. A yes vote renews the current local option — set to expire June 30, 2013 — through 2018.

The proposed rate — a maximum of $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value — is the same rate that has been assessed the past three years. The owner of property assessed at $200,000 would pay $250.

The proposed rate is estimated to raise $1,750,000 a year. Matching revenue from the state would be equal to approximately 38 percent of local option revenue collected — or about $665,000 a year.

Not all communities support their schools as loyally as does Hood River. In all, 28 of the 198 school districts state wide carry local options. Recently there is mixed news statewide regarding local option levies: Canby voters in May rejected a local option levy similar to Hood River’s by about a 3-to-2 ratio; a year ago, Beaverton voters rejected a local option levy; yet closer to home, Portland Public Schools voters passed one last year.

It took Hood River two attempts to gain its first passage in 2004. Justifiably, the local option has endured skepticism, thanks in large part to well-run schools and a high degree of community interest and involvement. In the past few years parents and community groups have increasingly stepped up efforts to help sustain arts, music, middle school sports and even nutrition programs, as fewer general funds have been available.

The recession has caused the Oregon Legislature to reduce the State School Fund that provides operating funds for K-12 schools statewide. Hood River schools and staff had planned ahead, making some prudent, tough budget decisions. Foremost was eliminating 10 teaching positions, 22 licensed positions (PE, language, child development, technology and others) and 2.5 district office jobs in the past two years. The district also took the difficult but necessary steps of paring Cascade Locks School from K-12 down to K-5, as well as turning Pine Grove from a K-5 facility to house district special needs and other uses.

Credit goes to the Hood River Education Association, whose membership last spring agreed to a two-year contract that included no pay increase this school year and a 0.5 (half a percent) increase next year.

This is evidence that there is no one answer to the question of how a school district makes it through lean times and still provides quality education. The local option is part of a larger equation. Revenue collected by Measure 14-48 will allow the district to maintain current programs. The Hood River News encourages voters to vote yes on Measure 14-48.

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