School Board Testimony by Carolyn Talarr

Hello again, I’m Carolyn Talarr, mother of a sophomore at Southridge and member of the Beaverton Friends of Music. The reason for the disaster that many of us are experiencing this academic year is not simply an environment of “dramatic funding stresses”, full stop. An equally, possibly more significant reason has to do with communication, which is more crucial than ever in a time of tough budget choices. The District has dropped the ball on two distinct sets of opportunities to learn about community priorities and build *real* community despite the challenges.

First, almost 3,800 people took the trouble to respond to the Budget priorities survey back in November 2011. It’s worth recalling: the top three priorities were 1) great teachers (which to most people probably meant prioritizing ‘highly qualified’ teachers); 2) class size; 3) ‘specials’, i.e. music, PE, and library.

What happened to these top three priorities? Just how *did* the survey “inform the District Budget Planning Team”, as stated in the results graphic?

Second, the thousands of folks, including the entire BEA, who attended the unprecedented 100 Budget Teaching Sessions also offered priorities in terms of possible *cuts*. Among other cuts, staff and community alike realistically recommended significant reductions in force, which were done. Also very realistically, the community, teachers included,  took up the District’s offer to consider up to 10 days of reduction by voting for that as the most popular choice by a 3-1 margin above the next most popular choice, which was the 4-day reduction option. It’s significant that the most frequent comment on the survey had been similar–to prioritize quality of education over quantity/number of days.

So, during the negotiations with the BEA, why didn’t the District move forward with the same 10 day idea they’d offered in the Teaching Sessions? Folks actually preferred 10 days over 5 by a whopping 7-1 ratio. Why solicit responses if only to ignore them? Were these exercises meant just to ‘demonstrate an inclusive process’, as this year’s model is described, or to have any kind of actual effect?

The worst part is that if the District had *listened to* *and acted on* these 5,300 responses, we could have avoided much of this year’s suffering and wasted time. We told the District last year that class size does matter, and that more furlough days would have addressed that, but were completely ignored.

And now we are being proposed a *new* ‘future-oriented’ model for community conversations. This model appears to be primarily a messaging generation group with very strict rules about interaction: participants are only to provide feedback to questions the District poses, and serve as ambassadors for whatever the District decides they should say.

These new ‘community conversations’ may happen, maybe even with dozens of people, but please know that thousands of us haven’t forgotten the ‘old’ conversations, and we know that branding and messaging are no substitute for serious *inter*action. Seeing all our *solicited* work and energy disappear into a hole, replaced by disastrous, unresponsive choices and instruction to focus on the future, is what has really created an “erosion of trust and confidence in our community”. After this past year, and before we vote to trust the District with any more of our money, all of us deserve more transparency and responsiveness from our District and Board.

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