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2016–17 Budget Proposal: A Message from the Superintendent

Stability, strong foundations, and sustainable supports

Superintendent’s message to staff – May 4, 2016 

My core belief is that our work as a school district is all about doing what’s best for kids. We have a moral obligation to educate every child to the best of our ability. And we have a fiscal obligation to spend taxpayer dollars wisely.

We need to start with the foundations of education:

  • Reasonable class sizes
  • Time for learning
  • Core education
  • Skilled and supported teachers
  • Basic supports to help students be ready to learn

Once the foundation is solid, we can work to expand and strengthen the rest of the educational structure:

  • Offer varied educational options for the whole child
  • Engage students and keep them interested in coming to school
  • Provide supports for rich learning, such as librarians and arts enrichment.

This year the district is undertaking the 4J Vision 20/20 community engagement process to develop a strategic vision and plan for the school district. In the years ahead, we will draw on this work to drive future budget priorities.

For the coming year, I am proposing a budget that starts with stabilizing the foundation of education, makes some modest and sustainable investments to strengthen it, and provides for stability in the years ahead. With this budget proposal:

First, we will stabilize the foundation.

  • We will have a full school year—the first in eight years. For the first time since 2008–09, there will be no furlough days next year. This return to a full school year will provide critical learning time for students.
  • We will hold the line on class sizes. The base teacher-to-student ratio for school staffing will stay at 23 for kindergarten, 27 for the rest of elementary school, 28 for middle school, and 29 for high school. Of course, there will always be individual class sizes that are smaller or larger than these ratios. This budget sets aside a pool of staff to balance the most extreme class sizes in the fall.

    My goal is to not just hold class sizes steady this year, but begin to bring class sizes down in the future, particularly for our youngest students. Reducing class sizes systemically and sustainably will require significant resources.

Second, we will strengthen the foundation with sustainable investments to support students.

  • We will provide counseling support at every elementary school. We already have full-time counselors in every middle and high school, but we are the only large district in Oregon that does not have consistent counselor support at the elementary level. The need for better supports for students’ emotional and behavioral needs is felt by students, teachers, staff and parents across our district.

    The proposed budget adds a handful of counselors—5.4 FTE across our 19 elementary schools—to provide this base level of counseling support. Every elementary school will have a counselor at least one day a week, with more support at many schools based on the number and needs of the students.

  • We will enrich learning with more music and physical education for elementary students. At the same time, we will provide more time for elementary teachers to prepare for quality instruction. This is a high priority that was agreed upon in the current teacher contract.
  • Other modest investments include a small addition of support for pregnant and parenting teens and for the International Baccalaureate program at North Eugene High School.

Third, we will prepare now for stability in the years ahead.

  • We will establish a general fund reserve level of 4.75 percent. This continues progress toward restoring the board policy level of 5 percent (which is like having about three weeks of living expenses set aside in your household bank account). The general fund reserve is a critical component of 4J’s financial stability, providing some cushion against unexpected cost increases or revenue reductions.
  • We will also set aside some reserves to balance rising costs that we know are coming in the next few years. The PERS rate is going to rise, the minimum wage is going to increase, and more class time and more physical education is mandated. This budget prepares to balance those costs and prevent the need for draconian cuts in the years ahead.

This is a “good” year in the context of many hard years for schools.  

This proposed budget uses the slowly improving resources we have available to stabilize the educational foundation, provide supports to strengthen it, and plan for stability in the years ahead. But I want to acknowledge that we are still a long way from where we want to be. Hiring a few counselors, music teachers and physical education teachers will help students and staff, but it’s not enough.

The foundation of education in Oregon has been dismantled by inadequate funding over the past 25 years. Oregon schools have large class sizes and a short school year. And beyond class sizes and learning time, we don’t have enough support staff to care for our students and our schools the way they deserve. In 4J we have one half-time mental health specialist and 11 nurses to take care of more than 16,000 students…one roofer to take care of one million square feet of roof…and other support staff similarly overstretched across our system.

We will keep considering and assessing the resources we have and how to provide the best services we can for students.

We’re grateful that our community supports schools with construction bonds and operating levies. But we also need to keep advocating for adequate school funding at the state level.

Our kids and our community deserve better. We’ll keep working to get there.

Gustavo Balderas

May 4, 2016

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