10-23-2016  1:22 pm      •     
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- When thousands of Oregon students returned to school last week they found institutions battered by the economy.
There's less of just about everything: fewer supplies, fewer teachers, fewer school days, fewer extra curricular actives, fewer counselors. The list goes on.
Dismal as all that may seem, it could get worse.
Jobs and school days alike were saved when the Oregon Legislature decided back in May to balance the state's budget with a $733 million tax plan.
In doing so, the Legislature left schools with a "fragile stability," as one parent put it.
Republican activists have promised to refer those new taxes -- which target corporations and people in upper income brackets -- to the voters early next year. If they succeed and voters reject the new taxes, schools could face even steeper cuts all around.
"I feel like we've suffered losses already," said Jeannette Hulse, the parent of two students at Imlay Elementary School in Hillsboro and president of the PTA.
Already, she said, 27 teachers have lost their jobs -- a district representative said that those losses were a function of temporary teachers not having their contracts renewed -- the school year is slated to be shortened by four days and her third-grader son is in a classroom of 31 students.
"If it doesn't pass, I fear that we're going to have to prepare for even larger class sizes and cutting of even more programs that aren't considered to be essential to what the mandated learning curriculum is," she said. "I feel like even if we get these taxes passed, we have a fragile stability."
As a result, advocates are gearing up for a fight.
Once the initiative qualifies for the ballot, school employees can't directly advocate for or against political matters during the work day. But they can speak to the facts.
"The facts are pretty powerful, and they represent a clear choice," said Jerry Colonna, the Beaverton School District superintendent.
Beaverton has cut into just about every area possible, avoiding only cuts to the teaching staff and school year.
The district has cleaned out its reserve funds. Professional development for teachers has been cut, so has any sort of travel. School supplies and text book budgets have also shrunk. Employees have given up contracted raises. Positions have gone unfilled.
All of these moves have helped shave $35 million off the $300 million budget while keeping the work force fairly untouched, but should voters reject the measures, there will be nowhere else to turn but teachers and school days.
There's no way of knowing just how many fewer dollars any one district would get if the taxes don't come through -- the Legislature will have to redraw the budget completely. But, for some perspective, if the Beaverton School District were asked to cut another $10 million from its budget, that would mean a loss of some 135 teachers or 10 schools day -- or, more likely, some combination thereof.
"We don't have other surpluses or supply or travel or personal development or text book funds or any of those other areas to go to any more," Colonna said.
That leaves teachers -- especially younger ones -- in a sort of budgetary limbo.
Dusty Hoesly, a fourth-year, seventh grade language arts teacher at Inza R. Wood Middle School in Wilsonville, has already had his share of that.
Teachers in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District had to wait until late May, when the Legislature finally hammered out a budget, to find out whether they'd have a job come September.
"We didn't proactively pink slip anybody, but alternatively it left a lot of people wondering where they would be come fall," he said.
All in all, Hoesly said 25 positions in the district were lost, most through attrition.
Those cuts are felt daily, he said.
Last year, Wood Middle School had three special education teachers, two people to help English-language learners with social studies and language arts and a reading specialist. Now the school has two special-education teachers and one English-language development specialist.
Hoesly worries reductions like that could ultimately hurt student performance on the tests that determine whether the school is meeting federal education standards.
"Are we going to be able to have the same quality results with less staff?" he asks.
Should the cuts run deeper, he envisions a shorter school year, fewer electives for students and more pink slips.
"We're running a tight ship as it is," Hoesly said. "To make further cuts -- what planks are you going to take out and keep the ship afloat?"

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