Editorial: Schools need help, and PERS reform is one clear-cut path


Published Jan 27, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

The Bend-La Pine school district has calculated it would lose 96 teachers or cut an additional 16 days from the school year if the governor’s budget were approved without the savings he seeks from the Public Employees Retirement System. Even with the PERS savings, the loss would be about half that much.

The district now has approximately 755 teachers but would need more than 850 to regain the teacher/student ratio it had in 2008-09.

Superintendent Ron Wilkinson laid out a variety of funding scenarios at a Tuesday school board meeting, ranging from the governor’s proposed $6.15 billion up to a level of $6.895 billion, the amount Wilkinson says is required to restore educational investment without PERS savings. He detailed the state’s declining investment in K-12 education, which represented 44.8 percent of the state’s general fund in 2003-05 but fell to 38.8 percent in 2009-11, with a slight increase to 39.1 percent for 2011-13.

The figures were part of the superintendent’s presentation of priorities for the upcoming legislative session. In addition to PERS reform, the district is concerned about proposed budget cuts for the High Desert Education Service District, and it is seeking flexibility on health insurance and collective bargaining.

Wilkinson said Bend-La Pine supports the governor’s 40-40-20 vision for education reform, including changes to teacher and administrator evaluations that include measures of student growth and achievement. But he said the aggressive goals require “significantly increased investment in education.”

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, expressed support for the district’s goals. Knopp urged the board to inform the public about the impact of PERS, saying advocacy is critical and has to happen early in the legislative session, which starts in February.

There’s plenty of room for principled disagreement on many education investment issues, and certainly the Legislature has tough decisions to make on where the money goes.

But we see no doubt at all that PERS reforms are needed, including ones that go far beyond the governor’s limited suggestions. Fixing PERS won’t solve the state’s budget problems, or even all those of education, but it’s a clear-cut need the Legislature must get behind and the governor must actively pursue.