'Literally, we could be saving children's lives.'
The Lake Oswego School District will ask voters to renew and increase the local option levy, which supplements state funding for education and provides revenue to maintain the current status of educational programs, teaching positions and class sizes desired by the community.
The district will ask homeowners for an additional 25 cents per $1,000 assessed value of their home. For the median homeowner in Lake Oswego, the additional cost of the levy is approximately $9.33 per month, according to district calculations. The
current rate is $1.39 per $1,000.
If passed, the "2019 Learning Levy," as it is referred to by the district, will continue current funding and provide additional resources to hire new teachers to maintain or reduce class sizes across all grade levels, support advanced career/technical and STEM programs and invest in academic and individualized social/emotional counseling supports. The levy system is a result of changes to statewide school funding models made through Measure 5 in the 1990s, which changed funding from local to statewide. Now, communities have the ability to supplement state funding as needed or desired, through locally-approved levies.
The original Lake Oswego Local Levy Option was first passed in 2000, and has since been renewed three times, once with an increase. It currently funds more than 80 teaching and classified positions, and makes up 12 percent of the district's annual operating budget.
The core investments to be funded by the levy were the chosen based on feedback from parents, teachers, principals and community members, as well as meetings with stakeholders and conducting surveys on community priorities.
"From what I'm hearing in our community this is what people want to see in our schools," said school board member John Wallin. "I think these are all the right priorities."
The core investments of the levy are to add six elementary STEM/innovation teachers (one for each elementary school); add three elementary reading support/learning specialists; add three elementary mental health and social-emotional learning counselors; add 1.5 PE support positions for elementary schools; add four secondary mental health/social-emotional learning counselors; add two secondary STEM/innovation teachers; and add one school resource officer.
The focus on mental health and social-emotional support in the schools is an important aspect of the levy. School board member and state senator Rob Wagner, who also chairs Oregon's Senate Committee on Education, says he has heard a lot about the need for enhanced mental health resources in schools, including during recent testimony about youth suicide prevention at the capitol.
"We cannot do enough right now to support our teachers and our counselors. Literally, we could be saving children's lives," Wagner said. "To have significant financial investment (in counseling) means that we actually demonstrate that we care for these kids. This is sometimes the first opportunity for a child to understand that there's someone who cares in their life."
Student school board representative Penelope Spurr also supports the investment in students' mental health.
"I cannot stress enough the importance of having support for mental health. Last year we had a student at LOHS that committed suicide. That is always in the back of my mind," she said. "It is so comforting knowing that there's someone there that I can talk to, that's always there for me. It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to other students."
Spurr said that as a representative of the school board, she often asks fellow students what they would like to see the district do.
"This is one of the top priorities, if not the top priority," she said.
Some of the levy funds would be used to hire reading and learning specialists at the elementary level. When it comes to kindergarteners, Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Schiele expressed a clear goal for the district.
"We want all of our (kindergarten) students to be reading at a third grade level," she said. "That is what the research shows us is very important."
It's also important to have elementary students meet college readiness standards, beginning in the third grade.
"We know that there is a group of students that is not ready, and we know that it's our responsibility to get them there," said Schiele. "It's all about putting support structures in place in our system to make sure every student gets there."
The 2019 Learning Levy would help students get there, she said.
Increasing opportunities in STEM areas is also a major focus of possible levy dollars.
"Seeing STEM innovations and seeing additional counseling support is monumental for me," said fellow school board student representative Anna Marie Guenther. "Coming from a student, it's very much needed."
Wagner said that there is an overall trend in the state of increasing STEM curriculum.
"There is an amazing amount of push and attention right now on trying to embed supports for teachers in the science curriculum in this state," Wagner said. "The world is not waiting for our kids to know how to do science."
If the levy is passed by voters in May, the district will be responsible for using the money as stated.
"If and when the money becomes available, it's going to be tied to specific things we want to accomplish. There's an accountability factor," Superintendent Michael Musick said. "I can say, 'When we spend this money, this is the outcome we expect as a district.' And if it's not getting the expected outcome, we need to adjust. That is the key."
For more information on the 2019 Learning Levy, click here.
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