Local conditions will shape reopening decisions, Colt Gill says
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
School reopening decisions will depend on local conditions within a statewide framework, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill told legislators Tuesday.
The Oregon Department of Education would release its guidance for fall next week and plans to update its guidance every two weeks this summer and into the fall, Gill said. His presentation to the Senate Interim Education Committee included a draft tool that said it is for determining how a school can open “based on the unique needs and circumstances of the local community.”
The tool includes a series of questions about health, safety and readiness. Schools will need to submit a plan to the district and the district will need to submit plans to the school board, according to ODE.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green told legislators he was heartened by ODE’s consideration of local circumstances. He told legislators that board members have been frustrated about public confusion over the differences in rules for schools and counties to reopen.
Green emphasized the need for continued robust support for schools as they faced pandemic-heightened challenges to deliver high-quality education equitably.
“Prior to this pandemic, we knew we had issues with our underserved populations … that has only been exacerbated,” he said.
Green asked legislators to protect the Student Success Act and the community-supported programs funded by it.
The three-hour hearing included testimony by education stakeholders representing interests throughout the K-12 and higher education systems.
Earlier in the hearing, legislative analyst Doug Wilson laid out some of the financial picture. Oregon is facing an $867 million revenue shortfall this biennium and a $3.7 billion shortfall for 2021-23. The State School Fund accounts for more than a third of the state budget.
“Whatever you do, there is still another bigger problem around the corner,” he said. “It’s very difficult to balance without doing something to the State School Fund.”
The executive branch, which includes ODE, can only make across-the-board proportional cuts to the budget, which would slice the State School Fund about $377 million, according to Wilson.
The Legislature can make more targeted cuts and reallocations as well as tap the Education Stability Fund, which is forecast to have $800 million by the end of the biennium.
The Legislature is expected to call a special session later this month to address the state’s budget problems.
Craig Hawkins, Coalition of Oregon School Administrators executive director, told legislators he had two requests: Protect K-12 funding and allow schools the flexibility to meet the new educational realities.
Gill, during his presentation, briefly highlighted some statute issues ODE would like to see the Legislature address for pandemic learning, including statewide assessments, physical education requirements, transportation cost definitions and teacher evaluations.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
*Updated to reflect COSA's name change to the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators.