In Response to the June 18th School Board Meeting

Response to the June 18th School Board Meeting

We were disappointed that the school board ignored our request to answer two simple questions regarding  alternatives to the disastrous cuts being planned for music, PE, and library/media. Please note that these questions were *not* just asked verbally in the meeting, but rather submitted in writing the weekend before.  Any one of these alternatives would have balanced the budget while saving high-quality, comprehensive education for 38,000 students in the Beaverton School District.

The alternatives are: 1)  Do not add NEW programs and 2) INCREASE furlough days.

Alternative #1: NEW Programs
The district plans to add 19.9 NEW instructional assistants (NOT licensed teachers, but classified staff) to supervise technology “class.”  The IAs do not hold a teaching license, so they will not be allowed to introduce any new information, but only supervise the students during their time in the computer lab.  The district also plans to add 32.5 RTI (Response to Intervention) positions.  These are certified teachers who spend some of their time working with small groups of students who need extra help, then spend the other part of their time leading collaboration efforts amongst classroom teachers.  RTI was implemented over the past two years using federal stimulus funds.  Those funds have since dried up.  We believe RTI is an unproven program that should not be sustained given the current budget shortfall and the cost to other programs—namely losing 1/3 of our music program, 1/3 of PE, and ALL teacher-librarians K-12.  The price tag for these new tech and RTI positions: $4.75M.

Alternative #2: Furlough Days
The district surveyed the community in a series of budget teaching sessions this past February.  Both staff and parents were overwhelmingly in favor of 10 furlough days (cutting days from the school year to cut costs) to balance the budget.  However, for some reason as yet unknown, the district ignored the input it claimed to have sought, and the furlough days negotiated with the teacher’s union amounted to only 5.  Once this contract was ratified, the school board claims they had no option to add more days—the contract was binding.  At the time of the vote, however, teachers did not have all of the information about program allocations yet.  They were informed that a veto to the contract would mean reverting back to a standard contract, losing all 5 negotiated furlough days and laying off even more teachers.  We believe the negotiation and ratification process was negligent and coercive.  We believe that teachers, now that they know the program cuts that are being planned, would gladly vote for more furlough days to save programs for students and reduce class size.  It is our understanding that contracts can be renegotiated if both sides agree to do so.  Our request was that the board simply ask the BEA if they would consider a renegotiation to add furlough days.  This could be done by putting out an official survey to certified teachers including all relevant information.  Each additional furlough day would save the district approximately $1.2M.  One furlough day could bring back all of the 18 music teachers the district plans to cut.  An additional 3 could bring back library/media specialists and another 1 furlough day could bring back PE.

The district and the board are hiding behind the outcome of BEA negotiations, saying their hands are tied because the contract has already been ratified.  They also transfer blame to the state legislature for underfunding us and to the voters for not passing the local option levy in November, 2011.  To us, the message is clear: unproven programs are being favored over proven ones.  The district is using these budget cuts as an excuse to implement pet projects.  They lean heavily on computers and cheap labor rather than comprehensive education for the whole child.  The district and the board are showing that they would rather have collaboration time for classroom teachers than music, PE, and library for students.  Collaboration is an unproven program, the latest educational fad, just like CIM and CAM.  Music, PE, and library are staples of comprehensive education.  The programs that are being cut will take years to replace.  The educational opportunities missed by students this coming year can never be replaced.  There are stories everywhere about how music class saved students from life-threatening depression or helped motivate them to attend school and graduate.  But no alumni will ever come back and say, “If it weren’t for those PLC’s (professional learning communities), I never would have made it to graduation.”

The meeting last night appeared to be engineered by the district so that we would not be heard during the public participation portion of the meeting — our microphones were turned off, and the timers gave us only 90 seconds instead of our full two minutes at the microphone.  After several of us had statements cut short, we had to ask the district to honor our full time.  It was just one more example of the reality that the district and board don’t really want to hear what we have to say, and are afraid to let it be heard and possibly broadcast.  Throughout this process, the public was not given enough opportunity to contribute.  The district only held one listening session instead of the usual three.  When we did faithfully participate, our comments and feedback were ignored.  The board rubber-stamped the budget as delivered by the district.

Below are the two questions (cited above) that we submitted to the board:

• Dear Board Member, When you voted, did you know your vote FOR the budget was a vote for NEW positions that would be funded in part by making significant cuts to existing, proven programs such as music, PE, and library?

• Dear Board Member, When you voted, did you know that the extra furlough days had not been negotiated for with specific intent to avoid damage to proven programs such as music, PE, and library?

We believe the district’s presentation of the budget this spring failed to inform the Board of significant increases which drove deep cuts to important programs, and the Board approved a budget without knowing its details.

Our group will continue to work to advance music education in the Beaverton School District.  Our goal is to have music funded to meet national minimums for seat time: 90 min per week grades K-5, and 3 hours per week for band and choir grades 6-12.

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