School funding: 'We're at that breaking point where we can't make it work'

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ore. -- As cities and counties debate taxes and fees to make ends meet, Oregon's schools are getting a lesson in economics.

They're trying to figure out how to get by with what they have, but all the cuts to the budget don't add up to success in the classroom.

For years, Oregon schools have had their budgets slashed again and again. Teachers and staff have been asked to do more with less, while students have fewer options for classes and extracurricular activities.

Roseburg schools superintendent Dr. Larry Parsons says when it comes to funding, schools can't get any lower. "We're still at the bottom of the trough," Parsons said.

Parsons says that in only five years his district has seen $10 million in cuts, and he doesn't plan
on a bigger budget any time soon. "We don't see anything coming that's going to allow us to really
pull out of that yet," he said.

These cuts have come at a time when expectations for students have gone up, and the math isn't hard: Big cuts + higher expectations = more pressure for teachers.

Karen Goirigolzarri, the Roseburg High School Principal, says it has shown in all of the educational system. "I have, quite honestly, seen a little bit of increase in stress of educational staff, and that's across the board."

In her 20-years as principal at RHS, Goirigolzarri says she's never seen cuts like this. "The difference in some of the budget cuts that I've experienced over my tenure is, you kind of make it work," she said. "I think we're at that breaking point where we can't make it work anymore."

School officials say there are several needs that just aren't being addressed right now.

In some schools, curriculum and technology are more than a decade out of date. Some necessary building maintenance and upkeep, like a new roof or boilers, are simply being delayed. "Every time it rains here, I hold my breath, and every cold morning I wonder if we're going to have heat in our buildings," Parsons said.

Schools in smaller towns are facing another threat to their budget, which is a steep drop in enrollment."

Steve Kelley, the South Umpqua School District Superintendent, says drops in enrollment mean less funding from the state. "We have a declining enrollment, so we're being under-funded by the
state, but we're also losing kids," he said.

With Douglas County's high unemployment, many families have left the area looking for work in a bigger city.

In the last three years, South Umpqua lost 115 students.

At a little more than $6,000 dollars per student, that adds up to almost $700,000 lost for the small

Kelley says they're dropping classes and programs to make ends meet. "No art, no P.E., no music for our elementary," he said.

That is a problem that he says cheats students out of a well-rounded education. "It's frustrating, it's sad for our kids. It's very disheartening."

All of the administrators that spoke with KPIC News said they believe that funding needs to become a priority for education in Oregon.

They say that children are our future, and there's no better investment than that.