2012: Budget cuts hit local school systems hard
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
An economic recession and a hole in the state school funding formula combined to wallop the Beaverton School District, and many neighboring school districts, in the late 2000s and early '10s.
Beaverton schools axed about $26 million from what they would have needed to hold steady in the 2011-12 school year. The cuts were widespread, including staff furloughs and changes to special education, and they were heaped atop some $80 million in cuts spread out over the three previous school years.
But the cuts for the 2012-13 school year were worse. Despite outrage from the community, the school board approved about $37 million in cuts — much of it paid for by eliminating a whopping 344 jobs throughout the district, including every certified school librarian. Class sizes ballooned as a result, with many classrooms settling in at a 30-to-1 ratio of students to teaching staff.
"These are investments we can't afford due to a lack of revenue," said Superintendent Jeff Rose, outlining the district's financial shortfall in stark terms. "There is no bucket of money or opportunity to cry wolf."
Even school athletics couldn't escape the Grim Reaper.
One memorable front page of the Beaverton Valley Times' sports section on April 28, 2011, illustrated the proposed cuts that year by placing a red circle with a line through it over a picture of a student golfing. At the time, the school board backed off that plan to cut athletic programs, directing district administration to find other cost savings in the budget. But that provided just a brief respite before the hammer fell in 2012, when the district eliminated all funding for golf and water polo.
The 2011-12 cuts were far from the grace note on which Beaverton Superintendent Jerome Colonna hoped to end his tenure at Washington County's largest school district. At Colonna's last school board meeting on June 7, 2011, the board approved that year's round of reductions.
Nor were the 2012-13 cuts how Rose wanted to begin his tenure as superintendent. At one particularly somber budget meeting in April 2012, as the vast scope of the cuts became clear, he admitted, "This perhaps will be one of the most challenging years in the history of the Beaverton School District."
In a June 2012 interview with The Times, Rose remarked, "Even though this is hard, there are so many people that have not lost faith in the end of the story. They inspire me and give me a firmer belief that this district can be collectively greater."
Indeed, as dramatic and painful as they were, 2011 and 2012 marked the nadir for the Beaverton School District.
In May 2013, district voters approved an operating levy — a similar measure in 2011 had narrowly failed — and the school board approved a budget that allowed the district to hire back more than 150 positions it had cut, as well as to begin the process of lowering class sizes and restoring electives, special education and other popular programs. There were modest add-backs in the 2014-15 schools budget as well, and so on from there. Voters approved a major bond measure in 2014. In 2015, the school board voted to bring back school librarians and golf.
To this day, water polo remains a club sport without district funding, although all six Beaverton high schools still have an associated team.
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