Facts more important than campaign rhetoric
This letter serves to correct and clarify several misstatements of fact and to provide additional essential information that were omitted from Mike Taylor's March 30 Citizen's View, "Cracks in the Ceiling."Having served on the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board for the past 8 years, I am very familiar with the details, history, and decision making relating to the subjects Mr. Taylor speaks of in his opinion sent to the newspaper and his voter's pamphlet statement. I've watched several people running for the Board over time and find it disheartening when candidates get too casual with the facts to score political points.
I have an obligation to our community to help everyone understand the facts. The two points I wish to address are the claims he has made with respect to the authorization of transfer students and "excessive" ending fund balances. In his letter, he makes claims that the district accepted 400-plus transfer students over what the Board authorized, which is false. The Board only authorized transfer students as required under HB3681, which started in 2011. For many years prior to that, and in addition to open enrollment, there are several other ways that students can transfer into the district, including inter-district transfer agreements and court orders. We have 13 years of transfer students, only a portion of them coming before the Board through the HB3681 process. Mr. Taylor's claim is false.He further claims in his voter's statement that the Long Range Planning Committee is responsible for managing transfer students, and that his opponent has some authority over this committee, both of which are also false claims.
The responsibility for transfer policy and setting admission limits is the sole responsibility of the five-member Board and his opponent has no authority over the committee.Mr. Taylor also claims that our ending fund balance is too high. During the March 6 Board meeting, a budget update was presented that showed our currently estimated end of year fund balance to be about $2.5 million. That comes to about 2.7 percent of our annual operating expenses and would cover less than one month's payroll. Our district has the second-to-lowest ending balance of the districts in our area and is well below the 5 percent-15 percent range recommended by OSBA and required to keep our bond rating.
Look closely and you will also note that the district is operating at a deficit this year. As of March 6, we were projected to spend $3.6 million more than we are taking in, which is being funded by drawing down the beginning balance we had at the start of the school year. The key thing to note here is that we are drawing down reserves rapidly, and this cannot continue.
Compounding this issue are the PERS rate increases that are set to kick in on July 1. Our district's obligation (including PERS bond obligations) will be over 31 percent for T1/T2 employees, and over 26 percent for OPSRP employees. With the Governor's announced education budget less than what is required to keep pace with rising costs, it should be clear that cost reductions are required to slow/reverse this trend. Mr. Taylor has recently championed nearly $900,000 of new spending on instructional staff next year for a single school. I urge everyone to know the facts and consider care-fully the sometimes serious implications of hasty campaign season rhetoric.
Keith Steele is a West Linn resident and member of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board.