For Chuck Lee, Keizer’s representative on the Salem-Keizer School District Board of directors for the past 12 years, funding is the primary source of the district’s woes.
“All of the issues we have from low graduation rates to lack of support for teachers with students coming from toxic environments, class size and everything else cost money,” Lee said. “If we’re serious about increasing the graduation rate and lowering class size and giving teachers support, we need the financial resources.”
And the situation isn’t getting any better. Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year was at best a break-even proposition for Salem-Keizer and the most recent draft to come out of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee would result in laying off 33 teachers, he said.
“It’s one of the reasons why it was so attractive to partner with CTEC (Career Technical Education Center). For 30 years, one of the district’s goals was to have a career technical space and the resources never came available,” he said.
CTEC is a public-private partnership and Lee remains heavily involved with the funding and direction of the school through his position as president of Mountain West Group, an investment firm owned by Larry Tokarski.
Lee said the lack of funding coming from the state contributes to other problems within the district and includes how the schools are equipped to handle the increase in students coming from toxic home environments or dealing with mental health issues, like student suicides.
“Right now, we have one counselor for every 500 students. The ideal would be one for every 250 students,” Lee said.
As the former president of Blanchet Catholic School, he feels there are ideas that could be borrowed from the private sector, like hiring a staff member or team to focus on securing grants from foundations and philanthropists seeking to better public schools. But it’s not one that’s caught on in Salem-Keizer or anywhere else in the state as far as he knows.
He said while many board members start with the notion of becoming involved in the schools on a deep level, the board’s oversight extends to only one employee, Superintendent Christy Perry.
“And she’s a good one,” he said. “The board needs to make sure that Christy is developing policy and has the tools she needs. As far as the school board getting involved with policy, it’s not something we often do.”
Lee was on the board when Perry was hired, and that was only after jettisoning the results of an initial search that resulted in a handful of candidates no one on the board felt were a good match.
“I think experience should be a factor in choosing the board members and keeping a sense of history of why we did things the way we did them,” Lee said.
While funding will continues to be an issue, Lee said there are projects he also wants to be around to see through.
“We’re starting to track the graduates of the CTEC programs to see where they succeed and struggle, we’ll adapt as we find out. I also want us to be good stewards of the recent bond, as we were with the one before that produced much more than we promised,” he said.