An impromptu debate on school funding between Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, and Brookings-Harbor School District 17-C Board Member Bill Ferry took place during Kriegers Brookings town hall meeting Thursday night.
Vicki Nuss brought up the topic by saying 55 percent of property taxes go to the school system. She asked why Curry County needs three districts for 3,200 students.
Krieger said Myrtle Point, Coquille and Powers are talking about merging into one high school, but none of them has a building large enough.
He said they may end up combining their administrations. There is a huge variety of opinions, he said.
Krieger said he has asked the Department of Revenue to pull up data on the amount of money K-12 education has received in Oregon during the past 10 years.
He said the education budget was not cut once in that decade.
He believes the amount of increase the K-12 system received each year outpaced the rate of inflation.
He said Oregon ranks No. 1 in the 11 Western states for per-pupil spending, except for Alaska, which has inflated costs for everything. He said Oregon is No. 6 in the nation.
If Oregon, a low-income state, is paying the most per student, said Krieger, taxpayers must be doing more here than anywhere else.
He said he had also heard that Oregon students spend the fewest number of days a year in the classroom.
Krieger said he is concerned about the efficiency of schools. He said not all school board members are fiscal wizards.
He said there was no budget cut for education this year. He said the districts wanted $400 million more than last year, and the Legislature and governor agreed in the regular session to give it to them.
He said that was reduced to a $308 million increase during subsequent special sessions, but said education will receive $80 million more in federal funding. He said the total amounts to almost no cut in the expected increase.
Krieger said though Oregon schools are well-funded, they are facing many problems that make them inefficient.
He said meth-lab homes, which he called a lifestyle choice, impact schools, the Oregon Health Plan, jobs, and domestic and child abuse.
Because of a lack of family values, said Krieger, teachers have to act as mothers and fathers for many unruly children, rather than teach.
He said traces of drugs have been found in the hair follicles of children from drug homes.
He believes drugs may have permanently affected their ability to learn.
You cant blame it just on the teachers, he said. Its a combination of things.
Krieger said the state and federal governments may have also contributed to the problem by laying down more than 300 mandates for schools.
He said those mandates could be producing unnecessary costs and taking up teachers time.
Weve prompted some of these expenses on our schools, said Krieger.
He would like to bring teachers, administrators and parents together with legislators to help solve school problems.
Many of Kriegers assertions were challenged by Ferry. He asked why his district was facing a $1 million cut in state funds if funding actually increased.
Krieger said the district must have increased its spending per pupil. He said the state provided $5,700 per pupil this year and increased spending by $400 million for next year.
Ferry said education was cut in the special sessions. How can you say youre giving more? he said.
Ferry said he learned at the Oregon School Boards Association meeting in Salem that schools would be facing $500 million in cuts next year.
Educators say you are not funding Oregons Quality of Education Model, he said.
Krieger said that model was not developed on a scientific foundation to say what was needed in education.
Still, said Ferry, the Legislature gave it to us. Now youre not supporting it.
Krieger said the Legislature is doing all it can for education, unless people would prefer cuts in public safety and other programs.
He said 45 percent of the states budget goes into K-12 education, which received a 1.8 percent budget cut in the special session.
He said the other 55 percent of the state budget had to absorb 98.2 percent of the cuts.
The Oregon Education Association is educations worst enemy, said Krieger. He said it opposes the creation of a rainy-day fund for the schools.
Ferry said the Oregon School Boards Association is also against the Legislatures rainy-day fund measures because 80 percent of the money would be taken out of the fund in the first year.
If that isnt done, said Krieger, K-12 education will have to take a $300 million cut.
Ferry said increasing noninvasive taxes on alcohol and cigarettes is a better option.
Krieger said the cigarette tax increase is projected to raise only $58 million, but he said it wouldnt even do that.
He said more people would buy cigarettes in casinos or over the Internet, or underground from organized crime. He said smoking would not decrease, but tax revenue would.
There is no easy solution for education, said Krieger, but we can stabilize it with a rainy-day fund.