Gov. John Kitzhaber’s budget proposal would cut the state funding for education service districts in Oregon, prompting concerns among local educators that the districts would be unable to meet the needs of schools.
Under the proposal for the 2013-15 biennium, up to $120 million that has gone to education service districts in Oregon would be trimmed. Those dollars would instead be funneled into professional development efforts for educators.
Education service districts provide school districts with services like technology, legal services and special education. Nineteen ESDs are in Oregon and have the goal of aiding school districts by marshaling resources on a broad scale to save money.
John Rexford, superintendent of High Desert ESD, said the proposal would amount to $2.7 million a year less, or $5.4 million for the biennium. That’s about 29 percent of the district’s general fund budget, he said.
“It really affects our constituent school districts,” he said. “Ninety percent of funds we receive go back to school districts.”
For example, $5.56 million of the ESD’s general fund budget — more than half — goes toward behavior programs and special education services for children with special needs.
The district serves schools in Deschutes and Crook counties.
Regardless of the ESD’s resources, school districts would still be required to provide services to students with special needs. As a result, schools would have to find another way to meet their needs if the ESD were unable to, school officials said.
Rexford said the governor’s goal of bolstering professional development for educators is laudable, though he has concerns about the potential budgetary impact. Ben Cannon, the education policy adviser for the governor, said: “The governor’s committed to putting some dollars behind teacher quality and teacher effectiveness.”
The budget proposal reflects the priority of preparing and supporting a strong core of teachers, Cannon said.
He noted that $120 million is the maximum sought, and the final figure could be less.
“We think that ESDs and ESD funding is part of the answer,” Cannon said.
The proposal calls for establishing four to six regional centers to guide the new educator training effort, serving teachers, early education professionals and instructional support staff.
Those centers would work with colleges and universities on improvements to teacher preparation programs. The center would also have mentoring for new educators and help with curriculum development.
The proposal doesn’t specify the centers’ locations.
The goal is to build on the ESD system, along with possibly making the work a bit more coordinated among the districts, he said.
Cannon said the governor’s office hasn’t determined the specifics for how ESDs should find efficiencies with less funding. But, he said, the hope is that the proposal will start a discussion in the state about the best ways for ESDs to operate efficiently.
Rexford said the ESD welcomes ideas for efficiencies. But, he said, “I just don’t see us carving out the efficiencies that would offset this.”
Patti Craveiro, executive director of special programs for Bend-La Pine Schools, said ESD services help disabled children, such as youngsters who are blind or deaf, or with orthopedic challenges.
Because an ESD typically covers a wide area with more than one school district, the same specialist can work throughout the region.
“The ESD does so many things for us in special education, it’s hard to imagine not having access to their services,” she said.
That’s particularly true in small school districts, where few students are in need of specialized assistance. For example, Culver School District has one hearing-impaired student, said Stefanie Garber, the district’s superintendent.
The school district also gets help from occupational therapists, who come in two days a week to work with students and offer guidance to staff. For the district to find that service on its own would be difficult, Garber said.
“I would be hard-pressed to find a two-day-a-month employee on my own, so that’s the beauty of the ESDs providing the services,” she said. “They can divide and conquer with their employees.”
Rick Molitor, superintendent of Jefferson County ESD, said he also has concerns. “Any funding that’s being impacted or taken away from the ESD has a direct link and impact to student services that we provide in classrooms,” said Molitor, who is also superintendent of the Jefferson County School District.
Noting that the numbers are still fluid, Molitor said his ESD’s cut would be roughly $300,000 to $350,000 — an amount comparable to the entire budget for technology needs.