The Oregon City Schools District will hold a public forum on Thursday, May 31 at 7 p.m. in the Clay High School Auditorium to get feedback from the community on the results of a community survey that was conducted last year.
The survey results showed that there is “a cloud of distrust and negativity,” between the public and the school system. A significant percentage of survey respondents expressed concerns about the district and how it is being run.
Last November, questionnaires were distributed to every residence in the district. A total of 295 questionnaires were completed and returned. The study’s confidence level is 95 percent, which means that in 95 cases out of 100, the survey results would represent the preferences of all district residents had they all responded to the survey. The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percent, was conducted in collaboration with a communications consultant and district personnel.
The survey results were not released to the media, but The Press obtained a copy earlier this month and wrote a story about it in its May 14 issue.
The survey found that the “bond of trust between the school system and community has been broken,” according to a summary of the results.
When asked how schools could be improved, many indicated they are disillusioned, disappointed and angry about what has been occurring in the district.
“The convergence of these concerns has exceeded the 10 percent tipping point threshold of public awareness and broken the bond of trust between the school system and community,” according to the summary. “It is significant to note that in most community surveys, the level of disillusionment, disappointment and anger among those who report that they support nearly all school tax issues is minimal to non-existent.”
But in Oregon, many of those who support nearly all school tax issues felt the school board and administration were not listening to the community; that high school busing needs to be restored; the needs of students rather than adults (board, administration, etc.) need to be the top priority; the district’s budget needs to be managed more effectively and fairly; the pay increases given to the superintendent and administration should be rescinded; and the quality of the teaching staff needs improvement.
“The upshot of the situation is that the culture in the Oregon City School District has become toxic – creating a cloud of distrust and negativity,” states the survey’s summary. “Coming to grips with the root causes of this situation is the most pressing challenge currently facing the school system and community.”
Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar, at a board meeting this month, said “Quite frankly, I don’t think the results of the survey surprised anybody.”
“I think it pretty much confirms what everybody already knew, how segments of the community feel about the current climate and current operation of the board, administration and the schools,” said Zalar. “I want the community to know that those remarks and those comments are being taken to heart and that this board is very interested and concerned about learning from what has happened during the course of the last couple of years.”
He said many of the concerns cited in the survey can be attributed to “unprecedented cuts in state funding, coupled with a bad economy, loss of revenue from numerous sources, and changes in tax reform laws.”
“We’ve had a perfect storm of loss in revenue that this district has been struggling to come to terms with for some time,” added Zalar. “This board of education…is in the unenviable position to have to guide the district through this storm. I know that we recently had a board election that was related to some of those decisions. We have a new board of education right now. I would just remind our community that anytime you have a new group, there are various stages of development that groups go through.”
He noted that there is a phase of “storming” in group formation.
“There’s been a lot of storming. I think we’ve been through that phase. We are at a point now where things, I believe, will begin to be normalized. We hope to end up with a very high performing board of education and administration. This is a natural progression. It’s been exacerbated by the challenges that this board of education has faced. And when 25 percent of our revenue is siphoned out of our general fund budget, and decisions need to be made because the state requires districts not to spend more money than they have, many, many difficult decisions occurred over the past several years. All segments of our staff and community have felt impacts of those reductions.”