Helping kids succeed in Bend-La Pine Schools just got an apparent win from Deschutes County.
Deschutes County’s budget committee voted 4-2 Friday to put in the county budget about $160,000 toward a new partnership. The county would put health professionals in the Bend-La Pine Schools to work with students on health promotion and prevention. The county and the school district would split the cost 50-50.
County Commissioners Patti Adair and Phil Chang voted for the Youth Success Partnership, as did two other budget committee members. What’s more interesting were the two “no” votes. County Commissioner Tony DeBone voted “no,” as did Bruce Barrett, another member of the budget committee.
Why vote “no”?
DeBone and Barrett didn’t dispute there are problems in the schools that are not so much about teaching. Mental health is one. Deschutes County has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the state. The county rate is 18.9 suicides per 100,000. Substance abuse from vaping to alcohol to marijuana is another. There, too, youth in Deschutes County can trend higher. Then there’s teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In 2019, 25 youths between the ages of 10 to 17 in the county got pregnant.
DeBone and Barrett believed the program may not be ready to go.
DeBone explained his vote to us by saying he voted “no,” but he is not against the program. Now there’s an answer that might have you thinking you have landed in an M.C. Escher drawing. The way we understand it from our conversation with DeBone is that he had reservations that not enough work has been done already to develop the new program for him to approve spending money on it. He also brought up a concern about how involved parents would be. County officials mentioned parental involvement. They didn’t emphasize it.
Barrett had similar worries. He, too, talked about how he didn’t think there was enough detail. He and other budget committee members were bothered that no specific metrics were identified to measure the program’s performance.
“I feel like this was just kind of a patchwork presentation to get this thing underway, so they can spend some CAT tax and I just don’t feel like the program is there,” Barrett said.
The CAT tax reference is about Oregon’s new corporate activity tax. It could bring in about $1 billion a year to schools. We are not sure how Barrett meant that jab about the CAT tax, though we don’t think it would be fair to suggest the district is throwing together something quickly just to spend money. Suicide, substance abuse and teen pregnancy are serious problems in the schools.
The real problem would be if the school district and the county were not willing to try anything new, not willing to take a chance on a new program to solve these problems that are more acute here and threaten to wreck the ability of students to succeed. If everyone on the county budget committee voted as DeBone and Barrett did, that’s where the county would be.
As Nahad Sadr-Azodi, public health director at Deschutes County, put it: “If we think the cost of this program is high, the cost of inaction is higher.”