Music, P.E. instruction positions added; librarians will have to wait

It doesn’t accommodate a request for an additional 2.5 elementary school guidance counselors, and even the superintendent sees it as just a step in an ongoing rebuilding process, but the Beaverton School District has a proposed budget in place for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

With minimal discussion, the district’s Budget Committee passed the $392.5 million general fund budget on Tuesday evening in an 11-1 vote. Two committee members were absent and member Gerardo Ochoa, citing questions about the district’s definition of and goals toward equity, voted against the budget proposal that now will go to the School Board for final approval and adoption on June 2.

“The board presented four pillars for the district, and one of them was equity,” Ochoa said immediately after the hour-long meeting. “It’s hard to say if equity is properly covered in the budget, because no one has defined it. It’s just talk.”

Requests to restore technology assistant positions at the district’s four smallest elementary schools were fulfilled, but the four largest elementaries will have to wait for additional full-time equivalent guidance counselor positions beyond the 10 the budget already added. Several committee members vowed to revisit the counselor issue as well as teacher-librarian positions that went missing two budget cycles ago.

“Clearly we know there’s not enough to do the things we all want to do,” said Linda Degman, who serves on the district’s Board of Directors and Budget Committee. “Even if we cannot bring them back to all of our schools, (to have) some sort of plan (like) the Music Task Force ... I don’t want to forget that, because I feel it’s a really important connection for our kids to be college ready.”

The budget contains about $18 million to fund nearly 200 teachers from the local option levy voters passed last year, including increases to music and physical education instruction time. Students will have about two 45-minute music classes every week, with a similar increase in physical education instruction time.

Assistant principals will be added to 11 schools, while funding is designated to boost teacher training and materials. Technology support staff will increase, along with custodian and office support staff hours.

Discussing the budget after the meeting, Superintendent Jeff Rose acknowledged its relative shortcomings, but praised the thoughtful way the committee allocated available funding.

“I’m proud of this budget and the work that went behind it,” he said. “There were difficult decisions when we’re making reductions. Here, we’re adding $20 million, and we’re still making difficult decisions.”

Rose said he agreed with Ochoa, the committee’s lone dissenter and personal champion of defining and achieving equity goals.

“That’s his right,” Rose said of Ochoa’s budget vote. “He has not seen the results we’ve been striving for. I’m proud of his decision regarding equity, and I agree we have a long way to go.”

Ochoa is stepping down from the Budget Committee to pursue a graduate program at Harvard University this fall.

Emphasizing the dynamic nature of the budget process, Rose said he looks forward to building on the progress the district — with the help of a local option levy and improving economy — has made in the past three or four years.

“We continue to improve our process, elevate the dialog and incorporate the feedback we receive,” he said. “Even though it comes in a big, thick ring of papers, the budget is not just a thing. It’s a living, breathing process that should, if it’s done well, meet the needs of our students based on the resources we have.”

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