Don't let budget crisis undercut school vision

By JERRY L. SESSIONS

Special to the News

The Hood River County School District is providing an education for 3,758 students this school year. The vision we have for these children is being threatened by a state system of funding that is not stable or adequate. With the primary source of state funding coming from income taxes, schools are subject to the mood of the economy. That mood has not been good this past year.

With student enrollment at an all-time high, we are being forced to reduce programs and services provided to students. In April, our district cut $1.3 million from the budget. That resulted in the loss of nine staff positions and $900,000 in support services, i.e. technology, textbooks, extra-curricular activities, etc. These reductions not only mean the loss of educational opportunities, but also the loss of family wage jobs in a community already experiencing high unemployment.

The release of the May revenue forecast brought news that the Oregon economy is still not doing well. Now the state is faced with an $880 million shortfall, and Hood River County schools are facing further cuts to programs and services.

The amount of reductions this time is $950,000. Cuts under consideration include: $211,000 to elementary programs, $319,000 to secondary programs, and $420,000 to district-level services. These reductions make it impossible for us to fulfill our vision of providing quality education to the 3,758 students in our schools.

Schools across Oregon are facing similar reductions in programs and services, and we are all looking to the legislature to do more than balance the budget by cutting. A third special session of the legislature will be called sometime in June to decide how to deal with the $880 million shortfall. The cuts having to be considered by schools to balance budgets will leave a generation of Oregon’s children ill-prepared to meet life’s demands. This is not a legacy the governor and state legislators want to leave Oregon.

We cannot realize our vision for the students of Hood River County unless we receive additional funding to avoid this next round of cuts. Oregonians have worked hard to build a common school system that gives children as good an education as our parents gave us. That system is being threatened today as never before. We find ourselves as stewards of a public school system in need of help. I trust that we will answer that call for the sake of our children.

“Our economic and cultural survival depends on our ability to educate our children as well as (if not better than) other nations are educating their children” (Huffman, 2000).

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Jerry Sessions is superintendent of Hood River County School District.

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