School district may ask for voter help

By Dick Mason, The Observer February 15, 2013 09:36 am

The La Grande School District, facing a challenging financial future because of falling enrollment and reduced state support, may ask voters late this year for help.

The La Grande School Board agreed Wednesday night to take a preliminary look at the possibility of seeking a bond or a local option levy. Should the board decide to go to voters for help, November would be the earliest it would do so, said La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze.

Money raised from a bond can be used only for maintenance and building work. School districts are not restricted in how they can use money from option levies.  

Several school board members said that it would be wise to look at seeking a bond or option levy because funding is needed for maintenance and repair work, much of which has been deferred for years because of tight budgets.

“There is a huge need to invest in our infrastructure,” said school board member Michael Frasier.

The school district put a five-year option levy before voters, which would have raised $900,000 a year in May 2011, but it was rejected. Voters in November 2008 also rejected a $18.1 million bond levy, which would have financed a significant amount of maintenance and renovation work.

School board member Greg Blackman said that if the people who voted against that bond walked though the district’s schools the need for funding would be apparant.

Glaze pointed out that additional funding is also needed to help the school district meet the demands being placed upon it by Gov. John Kitzhaber’s 40-40-20 initiative. Kitzhaber hopes that by 2025 40 percent of Oregon students will be graduating from four-year colleges and universities, 40 percent will be graduating from community colleges or vocational schools and that the remaining 20 percent will be graduating from high school.

The state will be pushing public schools to offer more vocational education programs because of the governor’s initiative. Glaze said the district is in no position to do this because budget shortfalls have forced deep cuts in its vocational programs in recent years. Money from a bond or option levy would go a long way toward helping the district restore its vocational programs, Glaze said.

The superintendent also said that a bond or portion levy would go a long way toward helping the school district take advantage of an opportunity the state will be providing to offer full-day kindergarten. Presently the state provides districts with only funding they need for half-day kindergarten.  

The state will begin providing the funding school districts need to operate full-day kindergarten programs in 2015 under a bill approved by the Legislature several years ago. 

La Grande will not be able to take advantage of this opportunity because it does not have the classroom space needed to provide full-day kindergarten. Glaze said four classrooms would have to be added before full-day kindergarten could begin after 2015.