Educators support school funding measure

September 10, 2002 11:00 pm
Trevor Shankle, center, Shane Page, left, Trace Richardson, right, and their fifth-grade classmates jumped into a few exercises at Brooklyn School. Students in School District 5J have begun their second week of school. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Trevor Shankle, center, Shane Page, left, Trace Richardson, right, and their fifth-grade classmates jumped into a few exercises at Brooklyn School. Students in School District 5J have begun their second week of school. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

Oregon voters are being asked to consider a scaled-down version of a defeated May ballot measure when they mark their ballots for the Sept. 17 election.

Ballot Measure 19, like its defeated predecessor, Ballot Measure 13, proposes converting the education endowment fund into an education stability fund. This time around, however, a smaller amount — $150 million rather than $220 million — would be transferred to the State School Fund to finance public education of students in kindergarten through Grade 12.

The May ballot measure, which was defeated by Oregon voters 52 percent to 48 percent, got mixed reviews from lawmakers and educators.

This time around, with schools facing deeper cuts if the measure fails, the educational community has come together in its support of the plan. The ballot measure is endorsed by associations representing teachers, administrators and school board members alike.

Don Ulrey, Baker School District superintendent, said the ballot measure is aimed at addressing the immediate short-term need of schools. The Baker School District already has cut $1.6 million from its 2002-2003 budget and will be forced to make more reductions without additional state funding.

Ulrey is relying on the state Legislature to solve the problem as soon as possible.

"We're hoping they fix the situation now so we can get this cloud hanging over all of our heads removed," he said.

Ed Hayhurst, the district's business manager, told the Baker School Board Tuesday night that if the ballot measure fails and the Legislature takes no other action, districts across the state are expected to take across-the-board cuts of $309 per student in state funding. Based on last year's weighted average daily membership of 2,606 (which includes adjustments for the number of special education students in the district and other factors), the district could find itself $805,254 short, he said.

Ulrey cautioned the board against considering those numbers.

"This is a dangerous discussion for us to be in," he said. "It's not accurate to set those numbers out."

He said the district must wait for results of the Sept. 17 election and any other ballot measures the Legislature may develop for consideration in November.

"It's not fair to our community to report these figures," he said.

Legislators are continuing to haggle this week over the best way to deal with what is now expected to be a $482 million shortfall. The Legislature began its fifth special session of the year Sept. 1.

Proposals have included tax increases, program cuts and future revenue borrowing.

Judy Trohkimoinen, Baker Education Association president, said she understands the confusion voters will be facing when they consider how to cast their ballots.

But the Oregon Education Association, which represents teachers statewide, is asking for a yes vote on the measure to address the immediate need of schools.

"It is one sure thing voters can do to help fund schools," Trohkimoinen said.

"I'm voting for 19 because we need the money, but I wish we had a long-term fix," she said.

In the meantime, the OEA's funding tax force is meeting to develop alternatives for the future.

"I hope in January that the legislators will attack this issue head-on," she said.

"The Legislature needs to make a decree, enact it and be done with it," she added. "We elect legislators to make these decisions. They keep putting it back on the plate of the voters and I don't appreciate it."