School district to query public on how to spend state funding

By Sean C. Morgan

Lebanon Local

In the coming months, the Lebanon Community School District will gather input from the public about how it should use funding from the Student Success Act.

As part of the process to apply for the funding, the board approved an updated Continuous Improvement Plan during its regular meeting Thursday evening, Nov. 14.

The Student Success Act, passed earlier this year by the state legislature, imposes a .57-percent  tax on gross revenue for commercial activity exceeding $1 million annually plus $250. It will reduce the bottom three tax brackets by .25 percent, and lawmakers last spring estimated it would raise $1 billion annually.

Assistant Supt. Jennfer Meckley said the district has a survey available on its website, lebanon.k12.or.us, and the district will start hosting focus groups to engage different groups.

It will seek input during Latino Family Night on Nov. 20, and the district will meet with a parents group on Nov. 21, she said. The district plans additional outreach and focus groups, with information to be posted to its website and Facebook page.

The district is working with a consultant from the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District to help facilitate additional focus groups, Meckley said.

It’s “a lot of ‘stay tuned,’” but the effort will continue through January, she said.

“We want to get all the voices we can. The more feedback we get, the better.”

With the board’s approval, the district will submit the district’s Continuous Improvement Plan immediately, Meckley told the board. The Oregon Department of Educaiton has yet to develop the application. She expects that by February, and the district will apply for funds in March.

After that, the district will begin a grant agreement process with the ODE, followed by a public review and School Board approval of the agreement, with funding in the next fiscal year, beginning July 1.

Supt. Bo Yates told the board that the grant is about $650 per student or $2.75 million, but Finance Director William Lewis said estimates are starting to run lower.

Of the $1 billion, half is dedicated to school districts through the “Student Investment Account,” Meckley said. Twenty percent is dedicated to early learning accounts, and Bo Yates is looking into using those funds for local preschool. The final 30 percent is meant to be used on statewide initiatives.

The Student Investment Account must be used in five different areas: reducing academic disparities, gaps in outcomes for different groups of students; meeting students’ mental and behavioral needs; providing access to academic courses; allowing teachers and staff time to collaborate, review data and develop strategies to help students stay on track to graduate; and establishing and strengthening partnerships.

“It is pretty wide open, but you do have to have a plan,” Meckley said. It could be used for facilities as long as it can be connected to health and safety, but it cannot go toward increasing teacher salaries.

Board Chairman Tom Oliver noted that the funding is tied to the economic fortunes of the state, and the same factors that affect income taxes will have the same impact on this revenue source, making the downturns even worse in some ways.

The Continuous Improvement Plan outlines the district’s goals and strategies to achieve them. The board, at the Nov. 14 meeting, approved a 19-page plan to meet three goals through 2021:

• An annual increase of 3 percent in overall achievement on state tests for English language arts and math, with 60 percent of students at grade level in 2019-20 and 75 percent by 2020-21 based on the STAR test.

• An intact cohort graduation rate of 86 percent this year and 90 percent next year.

• At least 98 per of third graders reading at grade level, with 60 percent at grade level based on STAR tests this year and 75 percent next year.

Meckley said the district created the three-year plan last year and updated it for approval by the board at the meeting.

“It’s a working document,” Meckley said. “We review it quarterly, tweak it according to what data we have.”

Present at the meeting were Tammy Schilling, Richard Borden, Oliver and Mike Martin. Nick Brooks was absent.

In other business, the board:

• Heard a resignation letter from Brooks, who has taken a job out of state. Oliver said the board needs to declare the seat vacant and create a procedure to fill it at the December board meeting.

• Heard about how the district responded to a racist incident last month.

Yates explained that a group of seven students had dressed all in black, with blackened faces or masks for a high school haunted barn fundraiser at the Lebanon High School Land Lab. A photo of them was posted to Snapchat, where a student tagged the picture with a racist comment. While it was removed, another student took a screenshot and re-posted it.

While the students in the photo were unaware of the post, nor understood the impact of painting their faces black, Yates said in a letter to the community, “the picture and comment were racist and have impacted our students of color. We need to ensure that all students are honored and championed.”

The high school has brought students together to talk about racism, and the district has had support for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Salem-Keizer School District, Yates told the board. The district is working with its Racial Equity team to help provide support and direction as the district focuses on keeping students in an environment free for any form of racism, hate speech or bigotry.

The district will look at subtle changes to the curriculum and embed more information about racist, he said.

“It is essential that our students understand the historical context to black face and appropriate curriculum will be adopted to ensure this,” Yates said in the letter.

• Approved the hiring of Kevin DeCoster as a .6 full-time equivalent school counselor.

• Held the first reading of policies governing weapons, bullying, student absences, nondiscrimination, criminal records checks and fingerprinting, suspension of driving privileges, expression of milk in the workplace and talented and gifted programs.

The changes are related to changes in state law, Meckley said.

The board withdrew a proposed policy revision on graduation requirements for further discussion later.

• Approved policy changes regarding staff ethics and a mother-friendly workplace following their second reading.