The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board laid out aspirations for the upcoming school year, declared a state of emergency and learned about a budget shortfall during a meeting Monday, Aug. 17.
The commitments for the 2020-21 school year, which members decided upon during a recent retreat and approved Monday, included the examination of the district's school resource officer program. Many such programs have been cut nationwide in the wake of outrage over police brutality.
"Depending on the outcome of this examination, the Board will conclude this process with an evidence-based recommendation to maintain, change or end the SRO program," the commitment read.
The board also committed to starting a "professionally facilitated dialogue with the purpose of exploring what 'disrupting systems of racism' means in our work as a Board." The phrase "disrupting systems of racism" was added to the board's goal language in 2019.
Finally, the board committed to "provide guidance and clarity" about the bond oversight role assigned to the Long Range Planning Committee.
Board Vice Chair Chelsea King said during the meeting that the tasks that lie ahead seem daunting but fulfilling.
"This looks like a lot of work to me, and it looks like really meaningful work," she said.
The board also finalized its goals for the school year, which were decided upon during the retreat.
The first goal pertained to fostering student success and equitable outcomes while "eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps." Other goals included using professional growth, socio-emotional learning and other practices to build confidence in students, operating in an equitable and transparent manner, and conducting financial planning and capital improvements to respond to growth.
District goals are formed with help from city staff and are broad objectives for the entire system, whereas commitments are determined by the board and are supposed to be specific projects.
State of emergency declared
Unlike many other school districts and municipalities, the WL-WV district did not declare a state of emergency at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pat McGough, the district's chief operating officer, said during the meeting that the district was in a good enough position that the declaration wasn't necessary.
However, he said resources have been depleted and that the district would need to declare a state of emergency in order to quickly respond in case it needs to purchase materials.
With that in mind, the board voted Monday to declare the state of emergency. The declaration means that district administration will have the power to purchase needed materials without board approval and without the standard request for proposal (RFP) process, which can take months to complete.
Some items McGough said could be needed included digital instruction materials, cleaning supplies and furnishings. He added that the district currently does not have enough desks that are suitable for kindergarten students. More desks are needed to abide by social distancing requirements.
"Some of those items are large enough to require a formal RFP purchase process and the current conditions simply do not grant us enough time to do those formal RFPs," he said.
The state of emergency will continue until Dec. 31 and the board will be apprised of exactly what was purchased each month.
"I think it's required of the board to get timely information. We don't know how quickly we could go into financial trouble during this pandemic. The monthly reports are really key for me to feel comfortable moving forward," board member Ginger Finch said.
Finch wondered why the board couldn't just approve each purchase one by one. McGough said that could be a challenge, particularly if the district has to make many purchases.
Budget shortfall expected
Also at the meeting, Superintendent Kathy Ludwig revealed that the district will have about $2.7 million less to work with than projected in the recently approved budget. The reasons for the shortfall include $1.5 million less in grants from the state of Oregon, needing 5.8 more full-time employees than anticipated to accommodate distance learning, and the digital curriculum costing $2 million more than anticipated.
However, the district received more Measure 98 and CARES Act funding than anticipated. The district will decide how to account for the shortfall at a later date.
Ludwig said the need for purchasing digital curriculum programs was not on the district's radar in February and March when the district was crafting the budget. She said the two programs for distance learning and both in-person and distance learning will cost about $200 per student.
"Once we get that proposal in place for how to adjust funds for our general budget, we will bring that proposal to the board and look for approval to adjust for functions in the budget," she said.
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