Public meeting discusses uses, sustainability of new state funds

Lake County School District 7 Superintendent Will Cahill addressed an audience at the LHS cafeteria on Tuesday, Feb. 11, gaining public input on how to spend money from the Oregon Student Success Act.

Fixing up school buildings and improving mental health services were options discussed for the $697,000 that the Lake County School District is slated to receive from the state of Oregon.

On Feb. 11, members of the public and leaders from Lake County School District 7 gathered at Lakeview High School to discuss what the priorities should be for money the school district will be getting from the Oregon Student Success Act.

Lake County School District Superintendent Will Cahill began the meeting talking about how education funding at the state level has been severely underfunded over the previous 20-years. In 2001, the Oregon Legislature set up the Quality Education Commission to look at how much it would take to adequately fund schools in Oregon compared to how much they actually get. Over the years, the gap between what should go to schools and what does go to schools has shrunk.

In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed the Corporate Activity Tax with money going to the new Student Success Fund. About $1 billion is for K-12 schools and early education; out of this amount LCSD7 will get $697,000 a year for the next three years. The money does have to be used within that fiscal year, with a little carried over for a few more months.

“This money is to cover four main goals and to help make sure all students have equity in school, no matter what their home situation is like,” Cahill said.

The Oregon Legislature created four broad categories that school districts can use the money towards. Each district must write up a plan of how they want to use the money. The four areas that school districts have to use the money on are class size, well-rounded education, instructional time, and health and safety.

Class size is about using evidence to get close to a good student-to-teacher ratio. Currently the elementary schools in the district have around 420 students in them and the student-to-teacher ratio varies widely by grade, with some grades having a higher number and some close to the ideal. Cahill told the audience that the money could go towards hiring more teachers to reduce the ratio, or other ways that reduce the number of students per teacher.

LCSD7 Board member Barry Shullanberger raised the point of sustainability — if the money runs out in three years, the district may not be able to keep on someone it hired with those state dollars.

Some of the areas that the money could be used for is towards fixing up the schools, such as replacing rotting windows in the elementary schools, fixing bathrooms, and other classrooms. He did mention it did not need to be just spent on hiring teachers.

The Oregon Department of Education would like the districts that use the money to help reduce academic disparities between students, and help with mental and behavioral health needs.

Fremont/A.D. Hay Elementary Schools Principal Susan Warner said that many kids start school lacking social skills and fine motor skills, and often teachers have to spend the first few weeks of school going over those areas.

One area that Cahill would like the district to work on is partnerships in the community and to branch out with groups the district has not worked with previously.

“I am proud of the partnerships we have formed in the community,” Cahill said.

Cahill would like to focus the money on reducing class sizes, helping kids that come from homes with poverty and/or trauma, and working on improving the security of the schools.

Using responses from the survey and meeting, Cahill will write a proposal for the Oregon Department of Education for how the district will spend the money, which he will present at the March 11 LCSD7 Board meeting.

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