Any guarantee to fund activities is irresponsible

In 1994 and in four subsequent elections Ashland residents have overwhelmingly approved the Youth Activities Levy (YAL). Recently, however, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a similar levy in Eugene violated state funding laws. It was only a matter of time before Ashland's YAL would suffer the same fate. BUT WAIT! Changes to Oregon state law now make it possible for school districts to collect funds through a local option levy. This November, voters in the Ashland School District will be asked to reauthorize an improved version of the Youth Activities Levy (YAL) renamed the Youth Activities and Academic Levy (YAAL).

The YAAL, or measure 15-80 as it will appear on the November ballot, shrinks the burden on City of Ashland tax payers by reducing the levy rate from $1.38/$1,000 assessed value to $1.29/$1,000. The YAAL expands the levy coverage from just the City of Ashland to the entire Ashland School District. With the reduced levy rate and expanded geographic coverage, the YAAL is likely to generate additional revenue beyond what the old levy might have generated, although not as much as has been claimed. The exact amount of additional revenue is very difficult to calculate, however, additional tax revenues are estimated to be several hundred thousand dollars. Not enough to fund the district at the level of the minimal Oregon Quality Education model, but enough to maintain the level of quality currently delivered by the Ashland School District.

However, a guarantee would compromise the well-defined budget process that is used for both levy funds as well as general funds. The budget process involves staff, the school board, and the citizen budget committee. During this process many trade-offs and complexities must be weighed and measured. New realities such as changes in state funding, student interest in any particular activity, total student population, and new state and federal mandates must be considered. These unknowns make it impossible to itemize or guarantee today what specific expenditures will be required in the future. To short circuit this process would be irresponsible.

Every activity needs to be funded on its own merits, not because of historical precedent. Would a guarantee of current funding levels for extracurricular activities force larger class sizes in the future? The issue really comes down to one of trust. Will district staff, the board, and the budget committee provide the best education possible while respecting the taxpayer financial burden? Do they realize the importance of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in the provision of the best education possible? I believe that they do, and the school board resolution shows they have given much thought to these issues.

This election is not about how to divide the levy funds but whether we should continue our local support of our local schools. The state has yet to provide funding to fully implement the Oregon Quality Education Model. The YAAL gives Ashland schools the ability to get closer to the goal.

Please join me in voting YES on Measure 15-80.

Curt Bacon is a professor in the SOU School of Business, AHS parent, Booster Club officer, former school board member, ASD budget committee applicant, and Co-Chair of the YAAL Campaign Committee.

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