January 15, 2017
Greetings HRCSD Educators,
Welcome to 2017! I hope you all enjoyed the winter break and celebrated the coming of a new year with the people you cherish. So many good things happened across our school district in 2016: your collective work brought increased graduation rates, increases in student attendance, increases in the numbers of students taking dual credit/college-level coursework, decreased suspension/expulsion rates, a great number of athletic and academic championships and honors, and a substantial community-supported capital bond.
Unfortunately, 2016 was also riddled with some bitter disappointments - especially concerning our budget outlook as a result of the November election (please see the budget discussion below). Also after the election, we heard from many voices in our community asking what the school district is doing to create safe conditions for learning for all of its students, especially concerning students who might be undocumented.
Since 2013, we have set aggressive goals for increasing outcomes for students of color: from beefing up early intervention practices for literacy and math, to increasing college prep programs such as AVID and diversifying dual-credit courses, to trying to impact pay-to-play barriers for extra-curriculars. This year, all administrators have been working with the National Equity Project to deepen our understanding of how race and culture intersects with our education system - and to intensify our collective resolve to champion equitable access and outcomes for all students. I’m excited that our work with the National Equity Project is set to expand to school teams in the months and years ahead.
I’m also excited that our Board took a courageous stand in demonstrating their commitment to all students from all backgrounds last week. Specifically, your School Board passed a resolution affirming our commitment to protecting students from immigrant families who may be undocumented. Amongst other points, this resolution reiterates our current policies that limit access to students by federal law enforcement in non-emergency situations and directs me to require a warrant for federal naturalization and immigration officials to access students while at school. The resolution communicates to our families that our schools remain safe zones for our students. Bravo to our school board. The resolution is attached for your reference along with a draft policy on Educational Equity that the Board is considering for adoption.
The good news first... You should know that we have received our financial audit report for 2015-16 and for the third consecutive year we’ve received an unmodified opinion, with no material weaknesses and no significant deficiencies. This is the cleanest audit report possible and communicates exceptional fiscal
stewardship to our community. I am extremely proud of Director Buchanan’s work since 2013 - and the work of our entire administrative and front-line staff - to turn our financial program around. For those of you that were with the district in 2012, you understand the significance of this turnaround better than most.
Now for the doom and gloom... What would be a New Year’s message be without communicating an ominous statewide budget picture? Governor Brown released her proposed budget on December 1st, which included $8.016 billion for K-12 Education. With the decisive defeat of Measure 97, truly massive increases in PERS rates set for the biennium, the surety of increases in insurance, supplies, materials, and utilities costs - all in tandem with a decline in student enrollment (we are down approximately 50 students this year) - our school district is facing a significant budget shortfall for the 2017-19 biennium. Without considerable additional investments from the legislature, we will have to spend down reserves and make reductions in our program.
And, without significant leadership and reform from our elected leaders in Salem, the statewide budget picture in the following two biennia - from 2019 to 2023 - will be far worse. This is due to the compounding nature of the PERS rate increases. To give you an idea of the immensity of our long-range financial predicament: over the course of the next 6 years the District would need to have $12.53 million in reserves to cover PERS rate increases alone! That’s not including any other budgetary factor like personnel costs, insurance increases, the cost of basic supplies and utilities, etc. Importantly, these estimates do not include increased PERS contributions for any future salary increases - they are based on today’s salary levels.
In many ways, our fate as a progressive school system hangs in the balance. The legislature will either address revenue in the short-term AND a combination of revenue and cost-driver reforms for the long- term, or our programs must compress. My promise to you is that we will fight for every available cent to ensure our students get the education they deserve and need. The administration will begin soliciting input to inform a balanced budget proposal due to our community budget committee in May.
When we began the school year, I addressed you all with these words:
“I firmly believe that when this group convenes again next year, it will be a meeting full of excitement, hope and promise - or it will be a meeting full of sadness and despair. I realize those are strong words, but I really mean them. Two events are going to occur over the course of this year, which will have an impact of that magnitude on public education: the first is the November election. Decisions reached on the November ballot will have a massive effect on the future of education in Oregon... Then, in February, the Oregon legislature will convene. During the session they will determine the level of school funding for the 2017-19 biennium. As we proved in the spring of 2015, your voice has an impact on what happens in the legislature. I encourage you to make sure your voice is heard. Please remember the words I
used. Hope... or despair.”
It truly saddens me to deliver this news as we start 2017.
First, I want to recognize Don Benefield and all the operations staff. From bus drivers to maintenance and custodial personnel, these folks have been unbelievably dedicated to making sure kids are able to safely get to school and that the grounds are prepared for staff and students alike. You should know that under very difficult conditions, our operations staff are doing a down-right amazing job.
We have now missed five full days and had seven delayed starts due to the weather. The forecast for next week includes more precipitation, bringing more challenges. As I’m sure you know, there are state minimums regarding instructional time that we must meet. So far, we have communicated that we will be making up the two snow days that happened before the winter break. These make up days will occur on January 27 and June 14. After we get through the next few days, we’ll take stock of the total time missed and announce additional dates to be added to the school calendar. Please prepare for additional days to be added at the end of the year.
Lastly on this subject, I’m sure many of you have heard that an elementary school gym in Bend collapsed last week under the weight of the snow. Thankfully this occurred in the early morning before any students or adults were at the school. On Friday, with even more precipitation forecasted, we completed a significant effort to assess all our roofs. In consultation with a structural engineer and architects, we inspected and analyzed the snow load on all our roofs, ensured drains are clear and functioning, and determined that the weight on the roofs is not exceeding the design standards. I am pleased to report a sense of confidence and relief that our facilities are faring well.
I realize this isn’t the most uplifting message you’ve ever received from me - and, believe me, the ongoing budget issues in our state are difficult for me to communicate year after year. I also know we have a lot to celebrate and a lot to look forward to this year. Your efforts and dedication to your students is palpable and appreciated by so many. Thank you for everything you to do prioritize your students’ successes!! I’m looking forward to 2017 with you-