Ours might be one of the best school districts in Oregon but our state and country do not compete well internationally. We must do better or we will not be a world economic power when the next generation is old enough to vote on local option.
I've long been a vocal advocate for education reform. Our district is ideal for implementing change because most teachers are excellent, there are hundreds of volunteers, and deep community support. Unfortunately, this has not resulted in significant reform. We have not used merit in any reduction in force or to reward our best teachers. Reform is very difficult because most school boards, including ours, are dominated by parents with kids in the district. Parents are very reluctant to do anything that might have a short-term adverse consequence. Reform is virtually impossible without a long-term view and strategy. Short-term pain is often required to make things significantly better. SPRD would not be where it is today if its board had been dominated by parents with kids in its programs. We need to elect board members that are without this conflict of interest.
The district must be more open, honest, and respectful to voters and taxpayers. The pro-option crowd is very organized, but they don't necessarily represent the interests of the entire community. This district has a history of pushing the envelope in argument and practice to get as much money as possible.
Recent cuts are due mostly to declining enrollment and increased PERS costs; not reductions in state funding as alleged in the pro-option literature. Enrollment is down 24 percent from five years ago; 1,503 to 1,144. Can our district survive if this trend continues? Does the district have a long-term plan? Have there been consolidation discussions with other districts? Should we shut down one of the campuses? These questions are relevant but we have no answers. Superintendent Golden said recently,
"...improvement in all areas will be challenging because the district is already fairly high-performing, yet facing increased costs and less funding because of lower enrollment." Messaging should be consistent and not changed to leverage voters.
Pro-option claims should reflect reality. 2012 state tests measuring academic performance, comparing Sisters High School with the four in Bend-La Pine, showed Sisters last in math, 8 percent below La Pine; third in writing; second in reading; and first in science. Academically, we are no better than Bend-La Pine and they do it without local option and have much more vocational and other course work options. We can and should do better. Maybe Bend-La Pine can help. Maybe we should ask.
The district claims no wasteful spending, yet it spent $100,000 to argue for five years that a voter and taxpayer in the district lacks standing to challenge its decision to sell tax-exempt bonds without voter approval. Instead of getting a decision on the merits we now have Supreme Court case law that says a denial of voting rights is not sufficient, in and of itself, to seek a remedy in an Oregon court. After the ruling Golden said, had he been here in 2007 he would have sent the matter to the voters. That could have been done at any time and saved a lot of money. That didn't happen because the district refused to seek advice from a law firm that was not also bond council to other districts that sold the same type of obligations without voter approval. The district lawyers did not serve us well because they had an undeclared conflict of interest. $250,000 per year is coming out of the classroom that can be saved by taking this matter to the voters. It can still be done. It should be done.
I'm not suggesting how anybody should vote. If I had kids in the district I would support local option, as a voter and taxpayer I'm not so sure. Either way I will hold my nose and mark my ballot. Please vote, because if the turnout is less than 50 percent the district will spend more money and put us through this again in May.