As of Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Funding for Oregon schools mirrors the larger, unpredictable “boom and bust” cycles of the state’s economy. Subject to whims of outside economic forces, school leaders must scramble up to the last minute to plan academic calendars as school funding projections constantly change. When the chips are down, school boards are forced to approve painful cuts and reductions. Those cuts and reductions leave indelible marks on students’ education, impacting them for the rest of their lives.
So, recognizing the value of steady local support for its schools, regardless of the economic winds, Hood River County residents approved the first local option levy in 2004 and have continued to approve it ever since. On May 15, voters will be asked again to affirm this support for its schools and approve Measure 14-61 — a measure that does not raise taxes and secures both local and matching funds for school programs critical to our children’s success.
Our schools would be a very different place without the local option. In fact, funds from the local option protect core academic courses and electives, preserve smaller class sizes and teacher-student ratios, and permit our school district to maintain a full school year of instructional activities for all children. High quality instruction in music, art, advanced-placement classes, career-technical education, and P.E. are made possible by the local option. These investments make Hood River County schools the jewel of the region and a model of excellence that other districts strive to emulate.
While it may seem unfathomable to imagine what our schools would be like without the local option, one doesn’t have to travel far to hear a different story: Over-crowded classrooms, outdated and irrelevant instructional materials, and meager course offerings leave students struggling to meet basic standards and proficiencies. In these schools, teachers and students barely keep their heads above water while trying to prepare for life in a competitive 21st century economy.
Throughout good times and bad, Hood River County Schools have been excellent financial stewards of public money. Year after year, our school district has prioritized putting dollars into the classroom, has garnered high marks and praise from outside financial auditors, and has leveraged all its resources to secure competitive grants and awards for innovative instructional programing. It has done so while also maintaining its commitments to lifting students out of poverty, providing additional help to students falling behind in academic work, and ensuring that schools are safe and secure learning spaces.
At its continued rate of $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the local option is projected to raise almost $2.5 million to put to work in our classrooms. Thus, dollar-for-dollar, the local option levy delivers real dividends for students resulting in an additional 23 percent Oregon state match of local option funds for our district — approximately $560,000 per year. Together, these direct and matching funds provide our schools steady and consistent resources required to ensure that students aren’t merely meeting basic standards, but are prepared to excel.
Now, in the face of ongoing uncertainty in Salem and Washington, D.C., Hood River students need something they can count on. They need local support that guarantees access to a wide range of academic opportunities for advanced and applied coursework, fine and performing arts, and championship-level athletic programs — all with comparatively lower class sizes than the rest of the state. They need the certainty of knowing that when adults said 14 years ago they were going to build great schools and promote great opportunities for student success that our word is as good today as it was then.
The world has changed in 14 years, but much remains the same. Communities strive to give their children the best they can offer, invest in schools to strengthen community ties, and pave a road for a successful futures. Voting “yes” on Measure 14-61, a local option levy that does not raise taxes, ensures necessary capital to keep our schools safe and effective for kids, and honors a commitment to building successful futures our students are counting on and deserve.
Dr. David Russo serves on the Hood River County School District’s Finance Advisory/Bond Oversight and Budget Committees.