April 15, 2016
Greetings HRCSD Educators,
The weather has turned since my last message in early March - clearly spring has sprung. This weekend, I’m putting my alpine skis away in favor of my skins and will head up Tilly Jane and across the Eliot Glacier for some backcountry fun before the snow’s all melted away. I hope you have a great weekend ahead too!
While there is much to celebrate and report on in our school district, I will try to keep this message focused squarely on the upcoming election for the School Construction Bond and our budget preparations for 2016-17.
School Construction Bond
As you know, this is our school district’s 150th anniversary. We have a proud history of excellent, well- supported schools that are intertwined with community life here in Hood River County. From excellent classroom instruction to community skate nights, from community education courses for all ages to youth and adult athletics, from community-based preschools embedded in our facilities to fine and performing arts programming... our school buildings and athletic fields are integral to our community’s quality of life throughout the Valley.
With the dismal status of Oregon state school funding, locally supported bonds (and operating levies) separate HRCSD from most other school districts. Just look west to Gresham-Barlow where they have not been able to pass an operating levy and class sizes are routinely in the 40’s - that is their norm. East in the Dalles they have not been able to pass a construction bond, the program offerings for students are slim, and the facilities are in a sad state of affairs. Without a positive bond election result here at home to replace roofs, boilers, and plumbing, and addressing enrollment growth in many schools, dollars that are now directed to the classroom and to student extra-curricular programs (see my discussion below on the budget) will have to be diverted to critical infrastructure. My positive budget message below just will not come to fruition without our community’s continued support.
Ballots will be sent out to voters in less than two weeks. I have been spending many evenings and lunches presenting information on the bond to community groups, civic clubs, and other agency boards. (I am attaching the Bond Information Sheet to this message for your reference.) Remember, this bond will not increase the tax rate as we have paid off the year 2000 bond.
Both unions (OSEA and HREA) have endorsed the Bond. If you would like learn more about the bond election, former HRCSD Board Member turned amazing regular citizen/organizer/public school champion, Liz Whitmore, has established a group with a Facebook page: https://goo.gl/xvUSJB. I am currently unaware of any group that is campaigning against the Bond.
2016-17 Budget Preparations
Over the past three months, the principals and other members of the administration have been working together to develop our budget for the next school year. After so many consecutive years of budget reductions, I am cautiously optimistic that we can sustain a number of critical program additions for our students in next year’s budget. A number of factors have contributed to this good news:
- First, the state school fund for the biennium was raised to $7.4 billion in late June, after we built our 2015-16 budget based on $7.25 billion. This came as a result of an amazing amount of pressure from the public, including from our community members here in Hood River County and increased our beginning fund balance substantially.
- Our local option levy (which will expire in 2018 unless supported by local election result) has brought in more revenue than expected. This is a result of rising property values.
- We’ve also sustained a number of major efficiencies, such as:
- Major, ongoing savings in Transportation (staggered start);
- Significant grants offset expenditures in training costs (e.g., Dual Language Grant, AVID grant, Collaboration Design Grant; etc.)
- Lower fuel prices (heating and vehicle) + warmer weather
- Increased savings from a seamless technology systems overhaul (did you even know it happened?)
- Lowering water usage and costs
- Increased vigilance and monitoring on spending at every level with new software and internal processes
The reason I say I am “cautiously optimistic” is that we will be facing very large increases to our PERS rates in 2017-18, increases to health care costs in connection to the Affordable Care Act, and we will need to address required increases to the minimum wage with the recent signing of SB 1532 in 2018. In order to withstand these factors in 2017-18, we will need to have enough money in reserves to endure at least a year of PERS rate increases (otherwise we’ll be back to cutting what we’ve added in only one year). As a result of our long-range financial planning efforts, I report to you that - pending a statewide funding fallout - we will have enough in reserves to head off these impending issues to increase programs for kids by approximately $750k.
Administrators have been working to identify priorities for next year. We’ve had the 20/20 Vision front- and-center in our discussions as well as feedback collected over the course of the last two years of budget reductions. On Wednesday evening, I announced to the School Board my intention to bring forward a proposed budget (to the Budget Committee) with the following program additions:
- 2.0 FTE Elementary Physical Education Teachers
- 1.0 FTE Elementary School Psychologist/Counselor/CDS
- .05 FTE Reading Teacher at Cascade Locks
- 9.25 Instructional Assistant Hours/Day for Elementary Reading Support
- 1.33 Teaching FTE for Middle School World Languages - Spanish
- .17 Teaching FTE Math @ Hood River Middle School
- Increase Funding for Middle School Robotics & AVID Site Coordination
- Increase Funding for Training to Support Dual Language Program at Wy'east
- 1.0 Teaching FTE for HRV Alternative Program
- Funds to Support High School Summer School
- Increased funding for High School Robotics, Lacrosse, eCar, Media, FFA, & AVID Site Coordination
- Funds for K-12 Math Curriculum
- School Resource Officer (SRO) Contract (shared costs with County)
- Increase School Discretionary Funds for Student Field Trips, Staff Training, Materials, Supplies, etc.
- .3 Teaching FTE Increase SPED/PBIS
- ESD Funding: .5 FTE Increase to Business Office Staffing (Accounts Payable)
- ESD Funding: Increase Training Budget in "School Improvement"
I realize, after over two decades of statewide disinvestment in schools, that this list falls short of the needs we have in many areas. Even so, I am excited that we have - through significant advocacy, vigilance, thoughtfulness and perseverance - turned a corner towards investment in our future leaders and doers: our kids. I am proud of our district-wide work in this regard and hope you feel a sense of pride and excitement as well. I am always open to feedback. Please contact me with any questions or comments.Before heading to the backcountry, I’ll be at the Helping Hands Against Domestic Violence Shelter tomorrow around 10am volunteering for yard work, painting, etc. We could always use a hand if you’ve got nothing else planned.Have a wonderful weekend and thank you for your hard work and perseverance each day with students.My best-Dan