Rob Corrigan

Lately it seems that there are few things about which we can collectively agree. The Bulletin reminds us daily, however, of one local institution that draws our communities together: our schools.

In Sisters, our schools are where service organizations and community groups, arts supporters and community-league athletes come together in well-maintained public facilities. School fields and gyms draw out-of-town visitors with annual sports tournaments that bring families and athletes from around the Northwest. Nationally known musicians frequently take the high school stage, entertaining audiences from across the region. Hundreds of quilters from around the nation are welcomed each summer, taking classes and overnighting in the homespun B & B at the middle school. Each of these events helps drive Sisters’ retail and tourism economy, and sends visitors home with wonderful stories of Central Oregon.

And through our schools, we come together as a community to celebrate young people’s success in academics, athletics, the arts and community service. Sisters students achieve remarkable success because all of Sisters supports their efforts. When we buy raffle tickets, contribute to bake sales or help sponsor concerts or sporting events, we remind ourselves that we were youngsters once, and that the current crop of students is both our community’s pride and our hope for the future.

Currently, Sisters residents have an even more meaningful and urgent reason to come together in support of our schools. We need to renew the Local Option by voting yes on Measure 9-88.

The state of Oregon now contributes 10 percent less funding per K-12 student than the national average, has one of the shortest school years in the country and has a worse high school graduation rate than Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Since the Great Recession began in 2007, state funding for schools is down 13.5 percent. Throughout Oregon, school districts have had to cut school days, cut teachers, cut programs and lower expectations for their students. Sisters’ schools have felt the pain, with 30 percent cut from our local district budget over the past three years.

But things could have been worse. In Sisters, the loss of state funds (compounded by rising fixed costs and unfunded mandates) has been partially offset by the Local Option. Since it was first passed by voters in 2000, this levy has consistently provided between 9 and 10 percent of the district’s budget, at a steady rate of 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. In fact, because the district has recently retired some of its capital bonds, our local school-related property tax rates are on the decrease.

Local Option revenues are raised in our community and stay local. They have been essential to maintaining lower class sizes, a full school year, sports, art, music, P.E., shop and outdoor education programs.

With the Local Option, Sisters schools have been consistently recognized as among the best in the state. In 2012, all three schools in the district were rated “outstanding,” and Sisters High School won the Oregonian Cup, which honors the top 4A school in the state for overall excellence in academics, activities and athletics. The attraction of strong schools remains a crucial factor for the real estate market in Sisters country, helping stabilize property values during the ongoing economic distress.

The Sisters community understands that the benefits of Local Option extend to our town overall. That’s why the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce, the Sisters City Council, local businesses and hundreds of community members from across the political spectrum have all endorsed renewal.

Sisters residents, please join together as a community united in support of the Local Option. Every vote is essential, because in order for the Local Option to pass, at least 51 percent of registered voters must cast a vote. Please vote yes on Measure 9-88 before March 12.