Methodology Chapter: Financial Decline and Crisis

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¶ … Boomtown Effect Impacted the Ranier School District

This is a case study on the rapid rise and decline of revenue within a public school district. The focus of the dissertation was on a specific school district using a qualitative research methodology including interviews of past and present of board members and present and past superintendents to identify the leadership qualities necessary to navigate through difficult financial times. The goal throughout the study was to determine if characteristics exist that can be identified as leadership qualities that will help other similarly situated districts through challenging periods. To this end, this case study traces the consolidation of numerous smaller districts forming one larger district in the seventies, the growth of that district due to an economic upturn fueled by the establishment of Portland General Electric and its nuclear power plant, Trojan, (the Boom) and the subsequent loss of the PGE revenue with the closure of Trojan and is decommissioning 16 years later, coupled by the passage of Ballot Measure 5 in 1990, a property tax rollback, (the Bust). A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the study's conclusion.

Review and Analysis

Background and Overview

Public education is reliant on federal, state and local funding sources to sustain and prosper. This has never been more evident than in the last 10 years with such a significant economic downturn across the country and throughout the State of Washington. More than any other section of the government, the public not only controls the success of their schools through taxation, but believe that the payment of those taxes gives them ownership in the decision making process of running the schools.

Schools are societal microcosms. There is a direct connection between the boom and/or bust of the economy in any given area and the success and/or struggles of its public schools. When an economy busts, the financial microscope of the community turns to its schools. The cost of education is a large part of any tax package. When the economy struggles, the public expects schools do to with less. They see it as a controllable resource.

Schools are also political pawns. Countless politicians have used education as their platform for election. Local, state and national governing bodies have passed legislation to improve education. The educational debate revolves more around political aspirations and less around genuine reform. The massive amount of rules and regulations from all levels is daunting. The increase in these requirements often comes with fiduciary caveats. These provisos are often not in the support of more funding if requirements are met, but rather less funding if they are not. The combination of a struggling economy, legislative micromanagement and educational best practices establish an explosive combination of events that can lead to educational gridlock. Yet most schools continue to persevere and some even thrive in adversity. This case study is of one such district. The Rainier School District has gone through repeated economic crises and yet continues to demonstrate many of the attributes of a high-achieving educational system. One of the more remarkable attributes of this district is the fact that it has weathered the storms of change time and again while remaining focused on its real mission to deliver high quality educational services in an environment that is conducive to learning.

Ballot Measure 5 is an amendment to the Oregon Constitution and is often seen as the beginning of the Oregon Tax Revolt. One effect of the measure was that funding for local schools was shifted from primarily local property taxes to state funds. With this, it led to an overall equalization of funding between school districts as funds were subsequently distributed based on the number of students in each district.

Schools with higher value property in their districts previously could fund local schools at a higher rate than more economically depressed areas. Measure 5 established limits on Oregon's property taxes. Property taxes dedicated for school funding were capped at $15.00 per $1,000 of real market value per year, and gradually lowered to $5. The measure transferred the responsibility for school funding from local government to the state, to equalize funding. The measure was blamed for cuts in school programs and the budget crises of 2002 and 2003. The measure was passed in the November 6, 1990 with 574,833 votes in favor, 522,022 votes against. Thereafter, Measure 5 was followed up with Measure 47 in 1996. Measure 47 limited the growth of a property's assessed value to 3% maximum per year to combat local governments raising assessed values to make up the difference in the rate they could charge and Measure 50 in 1997 clarified Measure 47.

The so-called "Boomtown Effect" is a cyclical experience of a community characterized by alternating periods of rapid growth and subsequent shrinking of its economy. During periods of boom, an economy will experience a surge in its production and the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within an area in a given period. This is the Gross Domestic Product or GDP. The per capita GDP is frequently regarded as being an accurate indicator of an area's standard of living. Conversely, during periods of bust, an economy will experience a decrease in production and an increase in unemployment. Not surprisingly, making choices concerning the allocation of educational resources during periods of boom frequently fail to take into account the potential for subsequent busts. This tendency can have profound implications for the school districts that rely on localized funding sources and these issues are discussed further below as they relate to the school district of interest to this case study.

Rainier School District

The Rainier School District is located in sparsely populated Columbia County in the State of Oregon. It is outside of Portland suburbia, but within driving distant to not only the larger cities of Longview and Kelso Washington but less than an hour to Portland. Prior to the building of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, the district, which encompasses most of Columbia County had a Union High School in downtown Rainier with numerous K -- 8 or smaller feeder districts. The district school population surged from 1600 +- to over 2700 and is currently about 1,000 students (Williams, 2010).

Literature Review

Chapter Introduction

The literature review was organized into two main categories: (a) social impact assessment of educational decision making and (b) boom and bust theory as applied to the influence it has on schools. These two ideologies will be interwoven with the historical storytelling that is followed by chapter three which more fully describes the study's methodology.

Social Impact Assessment

"Social Impact Assessment" (Finsterbusch, 1980) uses a progression that studies, observes and manages the anticipated and unanticipated outcomes, both positive and negative, of planned events and any social and shared changes brought about by those actions. Finsterbusch identifies areas that can be impacted by the outcomes of these events. They are; population changes, employment changes, displacement and relocation, neighborhood disruptions, noise impacts, leisure and recreation impacts, stressful community growth and decline. As a case study, Rainier experienced most all of these areas of impacts.

In the Imperfect Union, Peshkin (1982) relates the events in a town in Illinois from 1975 to 1979, a period during which the people of the town sought to fight the closing of its elementary school by splitting from the consolidated school district to which it belonged. The larger school district is symbolized as a district consisting of five politically distinct areas that was established on the theory that the focus of schools is the education of children. The account follows the efforts of the people of one of these sub-communities to bring other issues to the surface. This group hoped to examine the nature of communities and their limitations; the characteristics of a new district when smaller districts are consolidated; the actions of struggling groups as they work to blend over school affairs; and the sense of what a school should be to its community. The similarity between this community in Illinois and the events leading to the consolidation of the Rainier School District in the 1970's parallel.

Another work by Peshkin, the Color of Strangers, the Color of Friends (1991), looks at the impact of ethnicity in a Northern California town. Riverview High School is a public school in with a diverse student population. According to Peshkin, Riverview High School student values demonstrate a higher acceptance of different cultures and the blending of these differences is prevalent. The author states that this blending of ethnicity or specific cultural norms is not an issue at Riverview High: "RHS's ethnic potpourri does not encourage thinking about ethnic maintenance." Peshkin's writing suggests three major contradictions at the school: (1) purported respect for human diversity; (2) assimilation as a primary goal; and (3) the continued reproduction of inequality. The similarities with the community of Rainier do not focus as much on ethnic differences as much as cultural. My experiences working in that community indicated that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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