Front Street Weekly; 513
[INTRO MUSIC] [SANDRA REED]: Like, I think that the state government should keep the schools open for us. I don't think that, you know, they should make us fight all the time. [cheers] [JIM SWENSON]: But fighting is exactly what David Douglas High School students are doing these days. This week, voters in the David Douglas School District decide on whether the schools stay open --
and the students hope voters are listening to their rallying cry. [CAROL JENSEN]: Well, for the older kids I have a sister that lives in Salem, and it's possible that they could go live with her and go to school in Salem. But the younger kids, I would probably just keep them at home and do the best I could and hope I could, you know, get them through to the next year -- just with myself trying to teach them. But I don't know! [GWYNETH GAMBLE BOOTH]: Imagine teaching your children at home because your district runs out of money, and schools are forced to close. It almost happened in Dayton, Oregon, because that district didn't have enough operating funds to keep its schools open. [JIM SWENSON]: And see how a special breed of dog is being used as an alternative to traps and poisons at keeping predators away from sheep. You'll see those stories tonight here on Front Street Weekly, Oregon Public Television's news magazine. I'm Jim Swenson. [GWYNETH GAMBLE BOOTH]: And I'm Gwyneth Gamble Booth. Two segments of this evening's program examine Oregon's school funding crisis. On Thursday, February 6, voters in the
David Douglas School District will decide whether to vote for a multimillion dollar school levy. If the levy does not pass, the district's 11 schools will close later this month. Many of the district's students ignored the first three levy elections. But as Marilyn Deutsch reports, few are keeping quiet now. [demonstrating] [demonstrating] Where is the power in a democracy? [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Students at David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon, are learning a lesson in American politics. Across America, the right to a free public school education is taken for granted. Here in the David Douglas School District, students are fighting to stay in the classroom. Seniors want their diplomas, but voters think the price is too high. [Demonstrating] Who you can convince the vote in this election get them to say yes on the vote in this election
And I'm going to help your school to stay open. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: The David Douglas school district -- 11 schools in all -- could shut down at the end of the month. That is if Thursday, voters turn down a $3.7 million school levy. The levy would hike up local property taxes -- for most homeowners, roughly $40 a year. District voters have already said "no" three times to the levy. But this time, the till runs dry. School could be out from two to six weeks for 6,000 David Douglas students. Education is a necessity we all need it and we all need to be in school to learn so don't have our education don't have nothing just can't go out and get a job [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: If it weren't for the coming showdown between voters and students, the David Douglas School District would be quite unremarkable -- mostly white, mostly blue collar. To understand why this community might shut down its schools,
first, some economics. [pledge of allegiance] In Oregon, public education's financed mostly through local property taxes. That's unusual. And like homeowners elsewhere, Oregonians are tired of those high taxes. Most states pay half a local district's costs. But Oregon pays just one quarter of David Douglas's yearly budget. As a result, David Douglas is like one third of Oregon school districts -- it survives hand-to-mouth, asking voters for more money each and every year. Until the inflation of the 70s and the recession of the 80s, the system worked. But in the past decade, eight school districts have closed down -- some for as long as two months. And now, many say, Oregon's formula for financing schools is as outdated as the slide rule. [MARILYN LEWIS]: We're the only state in the Union that allows this. We are being laughed at. We allow schools to be closed, because we run out of money. That's silly.
[MARILYN DEUTSCH]: The David Douglas School District is just one of many school districts across Oregon that started the school year not knowing if they had the money to finish. Two districts eventually closed and reopened. For a handful like David Douglas, the school year's still up to the voters. [LISA WOODY]: I don't know -- there's a possibility that it will close and, you know, that you learn that your education is, you know, kind of important. Because if it's not there, I mean, you have no place to go. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: With the threat of no more academics for a while, students at David Douglas High School are picking up some quick lessons in elementary civics. It's an education not confined to the classroom. I was just calling to remind you about. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: After hours and on weekends, students are finding out what good old fashioned grassroots politics is all about -- phone banks and handshakes. [DON WESTIN]: Hi, my name's Don Westin, and I'm with the David Douglas School District here and my friends, Bill Welch and Scott. [BUSINESSMAN]: Hi, how are you? [DON WESTIN]: And we'd like to hang up our signs here, so that we could get public support and help pass our levy. [BUSINESSMAN]: Sure. Okay. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: The students are trying to sway public opinion in their own self-interest.
What could be more American? [JEFF CHASE]: You know, we want to come in here to save our school, because without our school, we won't get our diploma -- and that messes things up, like no summer jobs and, you know, maybe no college in the fall. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Students already boast some tangible results. Voter registration is up 20%. But three out of four voters in the school district don't even send children to the local schools. That's because most of the voters are senior citizens living on fixed incomes. Taxes are going up all over. The school levy is one tax they can control. [SENIOR MAN]: Just can't afford it. [FEMALE TEENAGER]: They've had a chance to go to school. I should have a chance. [SENIOR WOMAN]: I don't go for it. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Why not? [SENIOR WOMAN]: My taxes are $1161. You imagine what they'll be now? [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Not all senior citizens are voting "no," and not all the "no" votes are coming from senior citizens. [HERB BROWN]: Show me where it goes. Rachel, that's
Texas. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Herb Brown's 6-year-old daughter Rachel attends elementary school in the district. But Brown thinks he'll vote "no." He says the school board should trim the budget. [HERB BROWN]: They've got to tighten up just a little bit more, to the point that the rest of the taxpayers are tightening up, to pay for the system. [DON LARSON]: We've cut $600,000 this year alone, from when we first started voting in May. The cuts have been made. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Indeed, the district's laid off 84 teachers in the past five years. Class sizes are up 20%, and now some so-called frills are no longer free. If you want to play varsity sports, you must pay for the privilege. In the last year, the school district's budget has gone up three percent. [ANTHONY PALERMINI]: I feel that our school district has been doing its part in terms of holding down costs and coming in with budgets that have been less than the cost of living increase. [CLIFF WEHMEIER]: You see school buses running all the time with one kid in it -- middle of the day
or night. I think it's silly. Those buses don't run for nothing. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Despite the arguments over just how well the schools are run, parents and students worry about what will happen to them and their community if the schools close later this month. [JASON FISCHER]: And we won't learn as much. And if we can't get into other schools, some of the kids will forget what they've learned all year. [JOHN ZAMBA]: You think of school as always being there, you know -- one of those things that's always being there. But here, it may not be there. [MARSHA DIXON]: How else do you turn them into good citizens if you don't give them a good education? (marching band playing) [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: Thursday, students will learn if they've drummed their message home -- if all their work's won them an election. For now, they're both hopeful and critical. [SANDRA REED]: Like, I think the state government should keep the schools open for us. I don't think that, you know, they should make us fight all the time. [CORA BEST]: As a senior you have to worry about college. You have to worry about
financing college. We shouldn't have to worry about graduating. It should be something that you expect. [MARILYN DEUTSCH]: But in Oregon, more and more students campaign for their education and learn some politics, too. [BOB DAY]: If the levy was gonna to fail -- it failed three times -- and I hadn't done a thing to do- to try and prevent that. So, I decided that if it failed a fourth time, at least I would know that I tried. [JIM SWENSON]: While students of David Douglas School District fight to bring local attention to their cause, in 1985, articles in the L.A. Times and New York Times brought national attention to Oregon -- and the press wasn't good. News of Oregon's school funding crisis smeared the state's "open for business" image. Dayton, Oregon -- a farming community hard hit by inflation, recession, and high taxes. Within a few days, voters here will decide if they can afford to
keep their local schools open. If 652 students in Dayton find school doors closed, it won't be a first. Two other districts in Oregon have closed this year because voters didn't come up with the money from local property taxes. Schools stay closed until voters change their minds. Hank Paul is thinking about how he's going to vote. He says most people he knows think state run schools are pretty good. But like people all over the state, they're angry about high property taxes, so they may vote "no." [HANK PAUL]: The farmer's got took down the road pretty good, in some cases, this year -- a lot of them. A lot of them aren't making it, and how they're going to pay an additional tax is anybody's guess. [JIM SWENSON]: If the school levy is voted down, Carol Jensen has a plan, but she doesn't like it much. [CAROL JENSEN]: Well, for the older kids, I have a sister that lives in Salem and it's possible that they could go live with her and go to school
in Salem. But the younger kids, I would probably just keep them at home and do the best I could and hope I could, you know, get them through to the next year -- just with myself trying to teach them. But I don't know! [JIM SWENSON]: In order to understand why schools close in Oregon, it's important to remember that funding is piecemeal. About 30% comes from the state in the form of basic school support; about 10% from the federal government; and the rest from local sources, primarily voter-approved property taxes. Over the years, many school districts have voted to establish tax bases. This dedicates a certain amount of local property tax money per year to schools on a continuing basis. But some schools in Oregon have no tax base at all, and 126 Oregon school districts have tax bases which are woefully inadequate to cover school costs. Voters must then approve special levies to fund the schools. The tin cup approach is built in to the system.
Dayton's 25-year-old tax base can keep the schools running for only half a year. In January, school superintendent Leslie Wolfe will need $3 million to continue classes. It's the fourth time he's gone to the voters. He says he's repeatedly cut his budget. [LESLIE WOLFE]: Our budget this year compared to three years ago, we are $90,000 less than we were three years ago. So actually, our request is lower than it was three years ago at this time. So, we've cut our budget in a period of inflation, and that's one of the points we're trying to sell the people. [JIM SWENSON]: Wolfe says he would rather cut maintenance than axe programs like science, math, or music. [LESLIE WOLFE]: We have dry rot in a couple of schools. We are- some of our roofs are bad. Our lighting is bad. The plaster is falling out of some of the ceilings in the high school. And we're just going to have to catch up on these things one of these days, but we did
that because we kept cutting the budget. [JIM SWENSON]: While Dayton is property tax poor, other districts are property tax rich because of a concentration of industry, timber, and other resources. In Oregon, where you live determines your share of the local school tax burden. While the owner of an average home here in Dayton might pay $803 a year, the tax bill on the identical home in the community of Jewell would be only $170. The 124 students in Jewell aren't worried about school closure. Their district has $4.7 million in the bank. Timber receipts from county-owned land keep their tax levy below that of their tax base -- even though operating costs are high, with an average of eight grade school students per teacher. School superintendent Bernard Adamson is aware that his district is lucky. [BERNARD ADAMSON]: We have facilities for the small number of students, you know, probably
exceed what the normal is. But it's there by necessity of having a program, not to have an excessive, costly one. [JIM SWENSON]: There are a few frills -- a 29-computer laboratory; 80 acres of land for agricultural study; a new outdoor track; and a herd of cattle, which supplies hamburgers for the cafeteria. It's clear to Leslie Wolfe in Dayton that school funding through property taxes is not equitable. This is what he'd like to see. [LESLIE WOLFE]: Equal distribution of wealth throughout the whole state, for all of the students of the state, based on a property tax where parents in one district are paying the same taxes as parents in another district. [JIM SWENSON]: Under Wolfe's system, all property taxes would be collected by the state and redistributed to each district on a per-pupil basis. But Adamson says no to sharing the wealth. [BERNARD ADAMSON]: The fact that we are spending more than other
schools, you know, is unfortunate, but on the other hand the revenues from this district were made possible by the patrons. And so I don't really support the idea that there must be an equalization. I think it would be ideal, but I don't think it's realistic. [JIM SWENSON]: Surprisingly, Hank Paul in Dayton isn't sold on the idea of his property taxes going to the state and being redistributed either. [HANK PAUL]: They might have local control for a couple of years, and then they would vote something in the legislature that would take it away from them, and they'd lose it all. [JIM SWENSON]: So control of local purse strings is an issue in both tax-rich and tax-poor districts. Most voters want to keep school dollars close to home. And they want to keep the local schools the center of their community. School consolidation is viewed with fear and suspicion by many voters. This despite the fact that money is often saved when school districts merge. People don't want strangers a few
miles down the road to handle their property tax dollars. Oregon's 306 school districts are expensive to operate. The per pupil cost is eighth highest in the nation, but the 30% state funding is fifth lowest. Tough economic times make additional revenues difficult to come by. Recently, a statewide sales tax designed in part to help education was soundly defeated. Some state legislators think Oregon's school funding system is not all that bad despite closures, and don't think the legislature should step in to keep schools open. State Senator Ed Fadeley is one. [ED FADELEY]: I think we could have, by special session, easily put up enough money to keep the three or four districts out of 400 in operation. But the problems in those districts might not have been solved simply by keeping them in operation. There is indeed a breakdown of the community's ability to resolve a dispute between the school board and the school
employees on the one hand, and the taxpayers on the other. And giving them the money would paper that over, be good for the children who were in school then, but you would still have the dispute. [JIM SWENSON]: Fadeley says a lot of threatened closures are due to local bickering, not money. He says schools would stay open if each district voted for a modern tax base, if schools cut some administrators, and local back taxes could be collected sooner. Wolf says he doesn't think Fadeley understands how poor some districts are. (Wolf) Poor to me means when I go and knock on the home of a person on retirement, and if they vote to pass a school levy and that starts to threaten their ability to keep their homes, that's poor. (classroom noise) [JIM SWENSON]: Despite funding problems, Oregon schools rank in the upper 10% academically in nationwide testing.
[VERN DUNCAN]: Because of our school closure situation, people are getting a false image of Oregon. It's just a structure problem that we have to change. [JIM SWENSON]: State Superintendent of Schools Vern Duncan, who is tired of bad press all over the country, says the fault is not with the quality of education, but the way it is funded. The funding system, says Duncan, is in a crisis situation. [VERN DUNCAN]: I think it's a travesty that we close schools. I'm not talking about closing schools because of declining enrollment. I'm talking about where you close a whole school district. We're the only state in the Union where that happens because of our system. [JIM SWENSON]: Duncan calls for immediate help from the next legislative session. So far not much has happened, but a few ideas are floating around -- more flexible use of state funding, central distribution of property taxes, and a safety net solution. The safety net would fund schools at the previous year's budget if voters twice failed to pass a levy.
Meanwhile, some schools are still threatened with closures. And some people around the state point to the constitutional right of all Oregon students for a uniform system of education. Closures, they say, violate that right, and the state may be facing a lawsuit. [VERN DUNCAN]: If we get to a point where I see no hope, you know, and no way out of it, then I think I would- I might even encourage one. In fact, maybe I'll be one of the signers of the petition. [JIM SWENSON]: But Richard Eisenhower, a school superintendent from Roseburg, Oregon, isn't sure even a court mandate would solve the problem. [RICHARD EISENHOWER]: The courts might say, "Well, it is an unfair kind of situation," and turn to the state legislature or the local school levels and say, "Now solve that." And then we're back to where we were, other than with another mandate and again, faced with the situation of going to the voters, who might reject something just because it was court ordered. [JIM SWENSON]: So while school administrators, politicians, voters, and perhaps even the courts
continue the dialogue, many school districts are struggling to survive. On December 17, the Dayton school levy passed by 233 votes. In March, several more districts will try to convince local voters that their school should stay open. And while some work to change the system, other districts will be hoping to hear change in their tin cups. Gwyneth? [GWYNETH GAMBLE BOOTH]: Well, there's a special breed of dog which is being used by ranchers across the country to guard sheep. Now training this dog for its job requires little more than keeping it with the sheep from the time it's born -- and that way, the dog forms its primary attachment to the sheep rather than to humans. And that bond brings out a protective nature in the dog, as if it's protecting one of its own. Kaja Zaloudek reports on livestock guard dogs and Oregon's unique predator control program. [KAJA ZALOUDEK]: Sheep dogs -- most commonly thought of as the herding dogs used to gather, move, and sort sheep.
But there's another specially bred and trained kind of sheep dog -- one called a livestock guarding dog. A modern day shepherd of sorts, these dogs watch over the sheep, protecting them from intruders. Livestock guarding dogs, used in Europe for over five hundred years, have recently come to the United States. From Yugoslavia, we get a dog called the Šarplaninac; from Turkey, the Anatolian Shepherd; and from Italy, the Maremma. [JAY LAUREN]: Old World Europeans have selected a dog that does not chase sheep, but shows submissive behaviors towards the sheep and just lives with the sheep as another flock member. [KAJA ZALOUDEK]: In 1977, with a growing interest by many in this country to find ways of controlling predators without using traps and poisons, a man named Roy Copinger of Hampshire College brought several of the guard dogs over from Europe. In 1979, Dr. Copinger successfully placed two of the dogs on farms in eastern Oregon. More followed in 1981. The success of the dogs in the
state made it the perfect site choice for a three-year pilot program to encourage the use of the guard dogs. The program was supported early on by Defenders of Wildlife. [SARA VICKERMAN]: Well, for many years we've been concerned about the use of poisons and traps in predator control, and so this program was presented to us as an alternative to those more objectionable techniques. And so we went to Congress with a proposal to fund the pilot guarding dog project in Oregon. We also got money from the state legislature in Oregon. [KAJA ZALOUDEK]: Although there are other states using the dogs today, Oregon has the only statewide program, one sponsored by the state extension service. Jay Lauren started working with Dr. Copinger back in Massachusetts. As a wildlife specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, he now directs the program here. [JAY LAUREN]: The goals of our program are really to conduct an educational program and teaching the sheep producers about the dogs. And also, it's a research program in terms of evaluating the performance of the dogs.
And it's- it's a learning process to find out how to manage the dogs and how to make this an ecologically sound and effective technique in predator control. [KAJA ZALOUDEK]: The dogs can either be purchased from a private breeder, where they cost anywhere from $250 to $700 or leased through the Hampshire College Program for $120 a year. Leasing the dog seems to be the most popular on sheep ranches of all sizes throughout the state. Mike Atherton has a large range operation, about 170 sheep. Atherton frequently moves his flock from one location to another -- the clear cuts of the Siuslaw National Forest in the summer to the grass fields of the Willamette Valley during the winter. Mike had problems with coyotes killing his ewes and lambs. Trapping didn't work, so he decided to try guarding dogs. [MIKE ATHERTON]: I wouldn't go back to running sheep without a dog. You want to raise sheep and make money, you better get a guard dog. It takes a little while to train the sheep to the
dogs, but once you get that relationship established, the sheep know that the dog is there to protect them. I guess- I don't know if they know that or not, but they do know that when the dog barks, they get into a bunch -- and generally they'll- they'll go right to the dog. [KAJA ZALOUDEK]: John Gasperi uses his guard dog on a small 55 acre farm near Oregon City. Being close to both a suburban neighborhood and a forest, he used to have trouble with coyotes and domestic dogs killing his sheep. Gasperi has had his dog for almost two years now, and many of his sheep have been saved. He recalls one instance when the dog was circling a newborn lamb to keep a coyote away. [JOHN GASPERI]: At first I thought that, you know, maybe the dog's getting ready to attack the lamb. But I thought no I don't- no, she's never exhibited that kind of behavior. Well, I got to looking up the hill a little ways, and there was a coyote about maybe 30 or 40 feet up the hill just standing there watching the whole thing. The
dog never made- made a move towards a coyote, but it just kept circling and circling. Its main goal was to protect the sheep, which is, you know, I think the important thing with guard dogs. [KAJA ZALOUDEK]: Lauren says the pilot project has been very successful in Oregon. A recent evaluation showed that the number of guard dogs in the state has doubled in the last year. Today there are 125 dogs on farms and ranches throughout the state. The dogs themselves are getting good and excellent ratings in their working behavior with the sheep, and the rate of predation has been reduced. [JAY LAUREN]: So I'd like to see more widespread use of the dogs, and I think that the guarding dogs for many people can be the best first line of defense. [JOHN GASPERI]: I think it's definitely worth it. [MIKE ATHERTON]: Actually, it's not all that hard, and the rewards are- I mean, I can sleep at night. So it really puts everyone who's responsible for the sheep at ease. It's peace of mind.
[JIM SWENSON]: Now that's an interesting story, and there a lot of ranchers who are interested in watching the results of this experiment to see whether or not this really is an alternative to trapping or poisons. [GWYNETH GAMBLE BOOTH]: It certainly seems a lot safer to me, and it won't upset the ecological balance, which is what some other things will do. I like that. [JIM SWENSON]: Well, there's some ranchers who'd argue with that and say that the population of coyotes will increase as a result of using these kinds of techniques, but that remains to be seen. We also remain to be seen next week and on the next edition of Front Street Weekly we'll examine how state and community mental health programs are working to help Oregon's deinstitutionalized mentally ill. [GWYNETH GAMBLE BOOTH]: And aerobics can help you stay in shape, but not all aerobics classes measure up. Are you hurting more than helping your body? [JIM SWENSON]: And you'll meet the musician responsible for making Portland an important part of the jazz scene. And that's our program for this
evening. [GWYNETH GAMBLE BOOTH]: We'll see you next week on Front Street Weekly. Good night.
- Front Street Weekly
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- Oregon Public Broadcasting (Portland, Oregon)
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Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)
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- Chicago: “Front Street Weekly; 513,” 1986-02-06, Oregon Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-153-117m0f63.
- MLA: “Front Street Weekly; 513.” 1986-02-06. Oregon Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-153-117m0f63>.
- APA: Front Street Weekly; 513. Boston, MA: Oregon Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-153-117m0f63