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Taylor: large bond is unnecessary; schools should spend on more library staff and educational assistants

This op-ed has been updated from its original version.

New data shows the West Linn/Wilsonville School District dropping in achievement levels and enrollment is flat and capacity sufficient. The "numbers" can show you when something does not add up. If you read on farther I promise you two things: first the data that I use is accurate (from the District website and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) website) and has been vetted by the Tidings. Secondly, I have included suggestions for improving our children's educational success.

You are being asked to approve a $206.8 million dollar bond will take 31 years to pay off — and add to the approximately $170 million we already owe.. Why mortgage our future? The data shows a $376 million liability that is not necessary now — and besides a lot can happen in three decades. Is it worth the risk? Also, you are dealing with the administration that continues to use ROUNDUP—- linked to deaths and over 18,400 lawsuits—on our children's school grounds.

Consider achievement: A report released this month by ODE showed our district declining in 11 of 16 language arts and mathematics levels from the prior year. https://www.oregon.gov/ode/educator-resources/assessment/Pages/Assessment-Group-Reports.aspx. Two years ago in a opinion piece I wrote published in the Tidings "Cracks in the Ceiling," I predicted this would occur. In that same ODE report our high school math achievement dropped 10% over last year. For comparison our District's SAT score average is now 1170 while Lake Oswego is 1257.

Consider enrollment: First let's look at how many students we can expect in the district. Over the past 10 years of very positive economic growth, the district has averaged 11% organic growth This past 12 months the District only added 6 students to our enrollment.. 6! Now we see houses sitting empty and talk of a recession. Most importantly we are 236 students short of the District's own forecast for 2019 (10,044 projected minus 9808 actually enrolled equals 236 below forecast).

Consider capacity: Now let's look at capacity and specifically "educational capacity." The Capital Improvement Plan dated 01/28/2019 showed a District capacity of 10,643 that did not include Three Rivers Charter School or apparently the $3 million dollar renovation to Building 700 at WLHS.

Recipe for success: First the District should go back to the drawing board and propose a smaller capital bond focusing on actual needs. With bonds it is easy to create the physical plant but to staff with the teachers and support personnel to help our children learn is a completely different issue. More classrooms may require teachers whose budget source is your property taxes with the 3% annual limitation. One thing our District did five years ago was bringing in almost 700 transfer students who brought with them 6 million dollars to pay teachers. This decision thoroughly overcrowded our classrooms and likely adversely affected our children's learning opportunities.

Successful highly rated school districts do two things better than WL-WV: more teaching help and more library staff. The ODE website shows "great" school districts (Lake Oswego, Hood River, Medford) provide more support for school librarians. The ODE site also shows how many "educational assistants" or "para educators" (formerly called teachers aides) support the classroom setting. Lake Oswego has 141 helpers for 362 teachers for 7,057 students; Medford and Hood River had even higher percentages. Our District falls short: 198 educational assistants for 485 teachers supporting 9,048 students.

Looks like the data shows we need a revised and smaller bond, better instruction, but not an enlarged stadium or new performing arts center.

(editor's note: An opinion piece published Oct. 3, titled "WL-WV district drops in 11 or 16 state measurements" was incorrectly edited for accuracy. The op-ed should have stated that the district's projected enrolllment of 10,044 — calculated by hired consultants — was short by 236 students as of the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

The Tidings regrets the error.)

Mike Taylor is a West Linn resident and former candidate for West Linn-Wilsonville School Board.


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