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Published: Tuesday, 5/19/2009

10-year emergency levy eyed for Oregon Schools

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As part of an effort to help keep financially troubled Oregon City Schools in the black for two years, board members last week agreed to pursue a 10-year emergency levy that will raise $3.6 million annually if approved by voters in August.

Different principals for all of the district's seven schools also were approved last week, and two elementaries - Jerusalem and Wynn - will share one. Dean Ensey, currently principal of Fassett Middle School, will oversee both Jerusalem and Wynn next year to help save on administrative costs.

"We're going to try to cut some additional costs and have them combined," said Jeff Ziviski, school board president.

The chain-reaction change in principals was started by the impending retirement of Loren Dirr, Clay High School principal. He will be replaced by Jeffrey Thompson, currently principal of Eisenhower Middle School.

There are drawbacks to having one principal oversee two elementary schools, with a teacher in charge covering in his absence, but other districts use that system, Superintendent Mike Zalar said.

"I'm very confident in our administration," Mr. Zalar said. "I do admit there are some concerns we'll have to work through."

Hurting from falling tax revenues due to state changes, declining house valuations, and other reasons beyond the district's control, Oregon schools is in the midst of a cost-cutting plan for next school year.

The district has eliminated $2.3 million from next year's budget, $1.2 million shy of the current $3.5 million goal, Mr. Zalar said.

As a result, 32 teachers have been told they will not be returning next fall, Mr. Zalar said. Layoff discussions are continuing with the union representing bus drivers and other staff, he said.

Meanwhile, talks about health insurance and other changes are ongoing with both unions, Mr. Zalar said.

Board members last week discussed three 10-year emergency levy scenarios before deciding to go with the $3.6 million-a-year option. The emergency levy will be on the Aug. 4 ballot.

The two other scenarios - to raise about $5 million or $6.2 million a year, keeping the district in the black for three or four years, respectively - would have cost taxpayers more and are not as likely to be supported by voters, some officials said.

"I know they're hurting," Richard Gabel, board member, said. "The economy's bad. Everybody knows that."

Board members also discussed but made no decision on changing school start times next fall so bus routes can be altered. The proposal discussed by board members would change most school start times by 10 minutes to 15 minutes, and none would be changed more than 30 minutes.

The goal is to eliminate 10 bus routes, which would save $213,000 a year, Mr. Zalar said.



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