The Eugene, Ore., School Board addressed several big topics at Wednesday evening's meeting, but it declined to advance a $385 million bond measure.

The measure comes after more than 18 months of consideration, community conversations, surveys and planning to determine its final price, as well as what the district could do with the money should it be approved by voters — but board members got cold feet Wednesday and decided they needed a few more weeks to get some more information.

Board member Jim Torrey asked that the board postpone the vote and come back in August to discuss and potentially move the measure forward.

Downtown Eugene's skyline and Spencer Butte as seen from Skinner Butte in North Eugene
Downtown Eugene's skyline and Spencer Butte as seen from Skinner Butte in North Eugene. Jsayre64 [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

"We owe it to the voters to do a deeper dive on this," Torrey said. "My concern is that this is a heavy lift on the part of the community. It would be prudent on our part to at least consider (postponing) this."

Torrey asked that district staff answer a number of questions before the board advances the measure, including projected enrollment, student capacity in the north Eugene region, whether the district could renovate North Eugene High instead of rebuild it, and what other concerns community members might have about paying increased taxes, among other things. He also requested that the district analyze whether $385 million is the right price tag.

Board chairwoman Eileen Nittler was the only one of the six board members present to vote against postponing the advancement of the bond measure. Board member Anne Marie Levis was absent from the meeting.

The board ultimately decided to make a final decision on the matter on Aug. 15, just two days before the Aug. 17 deadline to file the ballot title with the county elections office. Additional board discussion will take place before Aug. 15.

If the bond measure reaches the ballot in November, it would be the largest in Lane County history. District voters last passed a $170 million bond in 2013 — at the time, it was the largest bond ever passed in the Eugene district, or any other Lane County school district.

If the bond is approved by voters in the Nov. 6 general election, the property taxes in the Eugene School District on a median assessed house of $204,147 would increase by about $167 a year. District property owners with a median assessed home already are paying about $1,600 a year to support Eugene school operations and to pay debt on previous voter-approved bond measures.

The budget
The board unanimously approved a $389.2 million budget proposal for the 2018-19 school year. The budget represents about a 5.4% increase in general fund spending. The general fund makes up about 55% of total budget resources. About 85% of the general fund, or about $181.7 million, is allocated for employee salaries and benefits, district documents show.

The proposed district general fund spending plan for 2018-19 totals $213.8 million, up 5.4% from $191.2 million in the current year. District documents indicate that the proposed budget aims to maintain a full academic year in 2018-19 for the third year in a row and provide support for students to reach high school graduation. About $3.3 million in Measure 98 funding will be spent to implement programs that will support graduation as well as college and career readiness, district documents show.

The district also will spend a big chunk of money to alleviate behavioral issues in the district.

In the 2018-19 school year, about $1.16 million will be spent from the general fund to pay for the salaries and benefits of the equivalent of: seven full-time behavioral educational assistant positions; about 12 full-time cognitive educational assistants; one school psychologist; one health services assistant; and a part-time special education teacher.

District spokeswoman Kerry Delf said Wednesday that although the district seemingly will be spending more money in the 2018-19 school year to address behavioral needs, there actually will be fewer employees working to alleviate such behavioral issues.

That's because in the 2017-18 school year, the district used reserve funds to hire more educational assistants and other behavioral specialists to deal with an increase in the number and frequency of students having behavioral issues. This coming school year, that money will come from the general fund, partially accounting for the 5.4% increase in general fund spending.

Last fall, staff members at several Eugene district schools reported that students identified as having "behavioral issues" have been breaking windows and door glass, throwing chairs, hitting teachers and other staff, yelling obscenities and becoming so violent or out of control that teachers are forced to completely clear their classrooms — sometimes as a safety precaution — requiring other students to move into a hallway or gymnasium for the duration of a student's meltdown.

District officials confirmed that the issue was present throughout the district, state and nation, and told parents, educators and others who brought their concerns to the board that the district was seeking solutions. Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said in November that a committee had been working for about two years to evaluate and fix behavioral programs.

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