I was invited to join a small group of school and municipal officials in a meeting with Governor John Kitzhaber that took place on February 2. It was a short meeting—about 45 minutes—held in the Governor’s conference room. In addition to me, the Eugene contingency included Colt Gill, Bethel School Superintendent, George Russell, 4J Superintendent, Mayor Kitty Piercy, Councilor Andrea Ortiz, Bethel School Board Chair Alan Laisure, Craig Smith of the 4J School Board and Joy Marshall of Stand for Children. Other delegates were present from the tri-county Metro area.
The subject was: temporary local tax options to support public schools. It was no surprise that the Governor was not enthusiastic about the prospect of local governments referring tax measures during a time of, in his words,
“heavy lifting” in the current Legislative Session. Following are exerpts from the pages of notes I took during the discussion.
Prior to his comments on local options the Governor spoke about some of his education priorities and views:
1. The state Superintendent of Schools should be Governor appointed, not elected
2. The Legislature is unlikely to allocate “much more than 5.6 (billion dollars)” for this biennium
3. Any money allocated in addition to $5.6 billion with existing revenue would have to be taken from other programs (he named social services as one such program)
4. Laying off teachers gets you to balance pretty quickly but doesn’t solve the long term issue
From School District Messages he said, “We support the Governor’s priority of minimizing lay-offs and avoiding additional cut school days…” (Read the full text of the Governor’s School District Messages memo in the previous ForumLane post, “Governor’s School District Messages from the Office of John Kitzhaber.”
He spoke of the collective bargaining environment as it pertains to school budgeting. He suggested that continuing the practice of “negotiating contracts beyond our means (to fund them)” is not sustainable. He strongly stated that he is in favor of unions and believes that unions “created the middle class.”
From School District Messages he said, “We agree that we should be negotiating contracts with teachers within the available resources for 2011-2013″ (Read the full text of the Governor’s School District Messages memo in the previous ForumLane post, “Governor’s School District Messages from the Office of John Kitzhaber.”
Governor Kitzhaber is and always has been a strong advocate for public education.
In regard to local jurisdictions asking for tax measures he said, “I would rather we didn’t have a bunch of operating levies out there in the middle of a legislative session (with a lot of “heavy lifting” ahead of the Legislature).”
From School District Messages he said, “We need to work towards statewide solutions for all of Oregon’s communities, and find funding solutions for the long term, not just quick fixes for the next two years. ” (Read the full text of the Governor’s School District Messages memo in the previous ForumLane post, “Governor’s School District Messages from the Office of John Kitzhaber.”
He also said that such levies give the false sense that there’s “quite a bit” more funding out there, and that this approach takes the pressure off solving the long term issue. He suggested that “spending political capital to change the system, not perpetuate what’s out there” was important.
He also stated that the local option approach “could undermine the message–this moment in time is not right strategically.”
He said the question should be, “What do we want it (school funding) to look like in the next 8-10-12 years?” and not “How do we fund the next 2 years?” He suggested that the question of how we’re spending the money and not how much we’re asking for should be preeminent.
He did not ask directly that local governments refrain from seeking alternate revenue streams. However, while acknowledging that “some districts will move forward this spring with new local funding levies” he asked us to think, “does the timing make sense in the larger revenue picture?”
Governor Kitzhaber wants public schools to excel and is committed to the future of Oregon’s public education system. We should all acknowledge Governor Kitzhaber’s leadership in prioritzing education. I share the Governor’s commitment to create an education system that prepares our students to succeed in the 21st century.
The Governor has put forward a plan for education rebuilding that includes new looks at how schools are administered and potentially funded for the future. His plan is bold and will take cooperation to implement.
It will also acknowledge obvious difficult choices to be made by the boards of school districts throughout the state and by the local elected officials and electorate that will be asked to help.