Rural Lane County School Districts Affected By Loss of Eugene 4J from Lane ESD

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Source: KEZI

The Lane Education Service District was notified on November 1 that the Eugene School District plans to opt out of their contract and seek financial independence for the 2014-15 school year. 

Each year, the sixteen districts in Lane ESD vote on what educational services they would like to see provided. The options vary each year, depending on what is needed at each district. The districts then select which services they want at each school based on a unit cost. 

The decision for Eugene 4J to quit Lane ESD, however, means a projected loss of approximately $5.4 million. Budgets for educational services are allotted to schools based on how many total students are enrolled in the combined districts. With 16,000 students, the Eugene School District is currently the largest to use services from Lane ESD. Lane ESD has a total budget of roughly $16.6 million, which means that the budget for next year would be cut by nearly 33 percent if Eugene 4J were to finalize its decision. 

Their announcement to opt out of the contract cannot be made official until the beginning of March. Many of the smaller districts that operate through Lane ESD, though, are already preparing for the projected impact. 

“This decision would make it more challenging to add some things that we’ve lost over the years,” said Tony Scurto, superintendent of the Pleasant Hill School District in Lane County. 

Educational services that have previously been cut from his district, without any foreseeable budget to be reinstated, include: business classes, forestry classes, and their own transportation service. Two of the total four schools that were once in the district have been closed as well. 

Scurto, who oversees 900 students, believes that Eugene 4J’S decision will make budgeting for next year even more challenging. He says Pleasant Hill projects a loss of roughly $36,000 per year, which would be the equivalent salary of an educational assistant.  

“Unfortunately, with state funding in the last decade, this further takes away the cooperative spirit that should be involved in with making opportunities better for every student,” said Scurto. 

Carol Knobbe, assistant superintendent at Lane ESD, said Eugene 4J planned to leave the district because they wanted more control over the dollars that they generated. According to Knobbe, Eugene 4J believes that the overall revenue should have been divided strictly by student count. 

“Our framework has always been about what’s good for all kids and all districts in the county,” said Knobbe. 

Core services provided to every school are technology and school improvement. Optional services include special education classes, school psychologists and various business services. 

These service orders for each district will be due on March 1, 2014. That date is also when Eugene must give final notice that they will no longer use the services provided by Lane ESD. If they withdraw their funding, however, Knobbe believes it will be noticed across other local districts when it comes time for funding. 

“There would be a monetary impact on the other districts for next year,” said Knobbe. “A number of our costs will go up.” 

Knobbe worries that there may be a shrinking in the core services provided to smaller districts with the projected budget loss. This would be a severe hit considering how much lower the overall budget is for these districts.

One question that has yet to be settled is whether or not the current open enrollment policy will still apply to students in the Eugene district. The policy allows students that reside in one district to attend any of the other schools within Lane ESD. 

This policy is able to help smaller, more rural schools increase enrollment and obtain more financial flexibility. This works, according to Scurto, because the only way to increase revenue is to increase enrollment. 

Lane ESD hopes to keep this policy in order to help smaller districts like Lowell or McKenzie recover from the losses suffered by Eugene seeking financial independence.    

It’s unclear whether the Eugene School District will continue to cooperate with the other districts in Lane County for program planning.

Knobbe, however, remains optimistic. 

“As an education service, I don’t think we would ever have interest in shutting the door in the relationship with a district,” said Knobbe. 

While Eugene 4J may still ask to use some of the services provided by Lane ESD, they will not be allowed to provide any weight on what the actual services will be. Those decisions would be made entirely by the remaining districts within Lane ESD. 

Some districts believe Eugene 4J’s decision to seek financial independence may also alleviate previous tension between big districts and small districts. 

“I think they would prefer to have all districts be a part of the educational service district,” said Knobbe. “But I think that the change in philosophy could make things be more cooperative in the long run.”

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