School levy fails to overcome still-slow economy

By Observer editorial May 25, 2011 03:46 pm
Last week’s defeat of La Grande School District’s local option levy was a bitter pill to swallow for all who supported its passage and realize how important quality schools are to a community’s success. But overcoming a still-stagnant economy is a difficult challenge, and likely was the overriding reason a majority of voters didn’t vote for the measure. When a lot of people remain out of work, when wages are flat and local businesses are still suffering, getting any kind of money measure approved is an uphill battle. But the voters spoke and the results are binding. The school district is going to have to come up with about $600,000 in cuts for the next school year. Employees will be asked to be part of the solution through  wage and benefit concessions. Overdue maintenance issues such as fixing the high school roof will be pushed back and addressed through more temporary “fixes.’’ The district won’t be able to bring textbooks up to date. And some programs will be scaled back. The district has a draft plan that calls for $389,000 in cuts for 2011-12 plus $420,000 in concessions it hopes to win from the teacher and classified staff unions. The concessions would include a cut of eight school days. No doubt the district’s budget committee will have its work cut out for it when it begins meeting in June.

This is the reality that the defeat of the levy presents to our community. It’s a reality that concerns most folks in the community, whether they were for or against the levy. Sure, the district has its detractors who claim that mismanagement over the years has put the district in a financial bind. But the fact is that every school district in Oregon is suffering the same fate, one caused by an ongoing recession that has severely cut tax revenue going into the state coffers that fund education in Oregon. Yes, employee costs have risen over the years and the public is angry. But many public employee groups — school districts included — have made concessions the past two years and administrative staffs have been cut back.
La Grande School District is no exception. Employees have made concessions and administrators are doing multiple duties.

Perhaps, when jobs are once again being created, wages start rising and businesses are seeing gains, the school district can make another attempt for a local option levy that will help make La Grande schools and their programs whole again.

The public will come around. Good schools matter.