STATE MUST CONSIDER SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION
We applaud the discussions that are being held in Wallowa County involving the possible merger of the Enterprise and Joseph school districts. Like most school districts in Eastern Oregon, Enterprise and Joseph have seen a steady decline in student enrollment, which directly affects the amount of financial support they receive from the state.
Each year, the districts have seen less funding and have had to cut programs. They are having to cut into the muscle that in the past made their school districts great. We would hope that they, along with the Wallowa School District, would move forward with plans to consolidate into a single countywide school district.
Consider the impact of a single school district like the one in Hood River County. The Hood River School District operates for less money than the four school districts in neighboring Wasco County, and yet is able to put 48 additional teachers in the classrooms.
Across the state, discussions are ongoing about how to solve Oregon's educational funding crisis. Portland Mayor Vera Katz and Multnomah County Chairwoman Diane Linn again are trying to figure out how to implement another tax on the citizens of the metropolitan area to provide more funds for Portland schools and the other county school districts. They have done it in the past and seem ready to try and do it again, even if this is the wrong approach to solving the schools' financial problems.
Instead of taking a serious look at the educational funding crisis in Oregon, Katz and Linn are looking only at another Band-Aid, that is if the Legislature fails to come up with $50 million more for Portland.
The only real way to solve the financial crisis in education is through consolidation. And this should not be limited to K-12. We mean unifying our universities, our community colleges and our public school systems into a single department that would work hard to create a pathway for every student in Oregon. This would include consolidating every county's school districts and educational service districts into a single countywide district.
There are other examples of successful consolidations. Look southeast of us to Baker County. In the mid-1960s, Halfway and Richland formed a single school district that has worked successfully.
Our legislators in Salem must wake up and recognize that the state does not have unlimited resources. The Senate Education Committee, co-chaired by Sens. Charles Starr, R-Hillsboro, and Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton, must open a productive dialogue and work toward finding a lasting solution to our educational funding needs.
The people of Wallowa County have a chance to form a unified county school district. The remainder of the state should watch closely and study the possibilities of what consolidation could mean for every county in Oregon.