Proficiency scores, teachers’ salaries and absenteeism were among the issues raised by residents with the Oregon school board at a public information forum last week on the proposed 5.9-mill five year emergency operating levy that will be on the November 2 ballot.
The forum was held before a regularly scheduled school board meeting on September 30.
The district faces a $2 million deficit for the 2011-2012 school year. If passed, the levy is expected to bring in $3.4 million annually.
In the last three years, the district has cut $8 million from the budget.
If the levy does not pass, the district plans to cut 20 additional teaching and staff positions.
One resident asked why Oregon teachers rank eight, or “dead last” in attendance among area school districts in the 2009-2010 school year, yet they rank second in salary.
“It kind of looks like we’re rewarding bad behavior,” said the resident.
School board officials said the average salary ranking was due to the percentage of highly experienced staff in the district.
And the low teacher attendance is due to a variety of factors, said Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar,
“Without going into specifics, it is what it is,” he said. “We encourage teacher attendance, and we have good attendance. There’s a variety of reasons for teachers to be absent. We don’t know what those absences are for. I think that number is a number that is difficult to characterize. There could be an extended illness. There’s a variety of variables that could factor into that. I don’t have the specifics on that. It’s an aggregate number. Certainly, we encourage our staff to be here every day. There are different reasons staff will be absent from time to time.”
The board was also asked about the lower proficiency scores at Jerusalem Elementary School, particularly when the district has been promoting Clay High School’s “excellent” designation by the Ohio Department of Education.
“We have a high school that has ranked excellent for the last seven years in a row,” said Zalar. “There are lower grades in the elementary where we struggle a bit more with the test scores. “
Part of the reason for the lower scores, he added, is because the district has a high proportion of special needs students.
“They are a part of our district, and they are required to pass the test at the same time and same level as the rest of the student body,” said Zalar. “We have an improvement plan we’ve been working on with the Ohio Department of Education to address those needs. Certainly the step backwards that we took this year with Jerusalem is something that is a concern to us. I think it indicates that when you make the kind of budgetary reductions we’ve been making throughout the course of the last three to five years – cutting out nearly $8 million in our operating budget - we have lost some services we had provided to kids. We’re looking for ways to improve those scores. I would remind our community, what I think is most important, is what happens at the end of the educational program, not so much what happens in the beginning. The early years are very important. We have a lot of kids who come to school who are quite honestly not ready to read. They come from homes where there is not a lot of reading by the parents, not a lot of focus on education. It takes a while to get t hose kids caught up. Some get caught up sooner than others. But by the time kids graduate from our system, our high school has prepared them. Our kids come out of high school ready and able to compete with any other school in the area, and on a national scale.”
The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $182 annually.
After the meeting, Zalar said the district would be in good shape financially through 2015 if the levy passes. “We believe, given our five year forecast, with this additional revenue, we should be financially stable up through the next four to five years,” he said.
If the levy is defeated, the school board will reduce the operating budget by about $2 million for the 2011 – 2012 school year by cutting the teaching and staff positions, eliminating the Career & Tech program, reducing kindergarten from all day every day to all day every other day, increasing athletic participation fees, reducing cleaning services to buildings, eliminating or significantly reducing bus service for all high school students, and implementing a process to close an elementary school and/or reconfigure the district.