Three Rivers School District starts budget process with 2 new board members

The Three Rivers School District Board of Directors had a blockbuster day Wednesday, May 17, with the first TRSD Budget Committee meeting of 2023 leading into the board’s monthly regular session at their New Hope Rd office.
Zone III Board Member Rich Halsted was unanimously elected Budget Committee chairperson at the start of the proceedings, and his first act was to turn the spotlight over to TRSD Superintendent Dave Valenzuela, who delivered the budget message for the 2023/24 fiscal year.
“I’ve been a teacher administrator in Three Rivers School District for 25 years and education has changed far more in the past three years than it did in my first 22, without a doubt,” remarked Valenzuela. “The challenges we face today are far more numerous and complex than issues I faced in the summer of 1997, my first year teaching at Fleming Middle School. As we enter the 23/24 school year I am extremely confident that this school district is poised to meet the challenges that are here now and those yet to come.
“This county, our state and this great nation are becoming more divided by the day. Education is clearly one of the areas of focus in this divisive climate. I call myself an instructional leader but I find that I’m spending far more time helping folks from our school community and beyond interpret state and federal law surrounding education or explaining the reasons behind one initiative or another to someone who plainly disagrees with it. Despite these tangents my job here at TRSD is to facilitate the idea that all students have the opportunity to experience high levels of learning all the time.”
Valenzuela’s message also touched on Three Rivers’ status as a professional learning communities school district, which entails faculty “continuously analyzing student learning data to make instructional decisions for their students.” He also reviewed the district’s core values: “Student success resulting in life-ready learners is at the center of our core values.”

With parental rights a flashpoint issue in American society as of late, Valenzuela assured the community that the district takes this matter seriously: “We in TRSD believe that we are much more successful when parents are authentically involved in the education of their children,” adding, “This core value of families involved and community-centered are not just fancy words, but an ideal that we continue to live. In TRSD, in many ways, we are not meeting the intended outcomes of this area so we continue to make it a focus.”

After mentioning that school safety is the overarching goal that TRSD is constantly making strides in, and praising the partnership with the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office, the superintendent said all of the district’s core values shape the budget. He explained that the budget is guided by “$9.9 billion Statewide K-12 education governor’s recommended budget” and that this is the last year school districts can expend Elementary and Secondary School Relief Funds, also known as ESSER.

“We are being very strategic with those investments,” Valenzuela said, reporting that over 10,000 square feet of new learning spaces will have been established district-wide by the time projects reach completion.

Among the notable projects Valenzuela recounted were the bathroom renovations and the roof replacement at Illinois Valley High School.

“In addition to the funding from the state school fund, the district has leveraged state and federal grants to continue investing in essential nursing and mental health services, guidance counselors, career and technical education classes and maintaining staffing levels in the classroom. However,
the 9.9 billion dollar State School Fund would equate to a 2.3 million dollar general fund deficit if the district were not able to access those reserves or grants. This is the equivalent of 23 teaching positions or 11.5 school days.”

Following the budget message, TRSD accountant Lisa Cross gave a thorough presentation delving into the nitty gritty details of the district’s finances, such as the ongoing property investments and services funds that the budget allocates for.

Her presentation included such topics as education-related matters at the state Legislature, a 15% increase in property liability insurance, debt service payments, capital projects funds, Southern Oregon Success Academy’s charter being dissolved and being enveloped back into the district, a 200-student enrollment decrease and 6.5% reserve being targeted for end of next fiscal year.

Three Rivers is projected to have $117 million in expenses this coming fiscal year; 58% of that will be the operating expenses of the General Fund, which accounts for the salaries of 79% of district staff.

For 23/24, TRSD begins with a general fund balance of $7.2 million; About $36 million, or 56%, of the $66.1 million general fund will come from state revenues, while about $21 million, or 32%, will come from local revenues.

What is the General Fund expended on? According to cross, 65% will go to employee salaries and employer costs, 22% to purchased services (student transportation, charter school payments, utilities, maintenance) and the remainder will go to supplies, capital expenditures, reserves and contingencies, etc.

Cross notes that the district is targeting a $4.3 mil reserve to carry over into the 24/25 fiscal year.

Next, Cross examined the nearly $33 mil the district has in special revenue funds, from sources such as: Title 1A; Every Student Success Act; Student Investment Account; and High School Success.

The district has over $10.8 mil worth of capital projects lined up for the coming fiscal year: Illinois Valley High School re-roof project; Fleming Middle and Evergreen Elementary Seismic Retrofits; Floor replacements at Applegate and Madrona; Cooling tower replacement at Fruitdale; Trash compactor replacement at Hidden Valley High School; Boiler upgrade at Fort Vannoy; Facility assessment & long range facility plan; Maintenance vehicle lease; and Field upgrades at North Valley High School.

Right before the TRSD Budget Committee voted unanimously to adopt the proposed 23/24 budget, Board Chair Jennifer Johnstun remarked on her positive outlook toward the district’s future: “It is really nice to have a few years where we’re looking at a full calendar of school days without any threat of having to cut those days of pay, those days of education and I think that the changes that we have made over the last few years combined with the extra funding that has come in has really created a different level of stability and cushion for us and we are in a different place than we were even just a few years ago.”

After taking a 20-minute break between the end of the budget committee meeting and start of the regular session, the board reconvened and recognized an acclaimed administrator who had just won a statewide award the day before. Southern Oregon Success Academy office manager Zandra Jansma was named 2023 Education Support Professional of the Year by the Oregon Department of Education.

“The amazing work Zandra does for students and staff on a daily basis is truly inspiring,” read a statement from Governor Tina Kotek. “Her continued efforts to go above and beyond to develop personal connections with students is what turns a school into a community. My vision is for Oregon to be a place where every child has a safe place to receive a high-quality education. We can achieve that vision if we have more people like Zandra in our schools.”

At the celebration for Jansma, Valenzuela said, “Zandra Jansma is one of the hardest working, most caring and dedicated members of the Three Rivers School District family. She has not only been an integral part of the success of SOSA over the years, but she has also been an integral part of so many students’ lives, seeing many to the goal of graduation.

“Southern Oregon Success Academy serves the greatest population of at-risk youth in the Three Rivers School District, if not all of Josephine County. I cannot think of anyone better suited to support this school or this population of students, and more deserving of this award. Congratulations Zandra!”

On May 18, Zone II Board Member / Vice Chair Susan Fischer-Maki, appointed to fill Danny York’s vacant seat March 16, 2022, and Zone IV Board Member Jamie Wright, appointed to fill Paul Kelly’s vacant seat June 15, 2022, lost their respective election bids for a full term on the TRSD board. Fischer-Maki lost to Patrick J. Kelly, a longtime attorney who serves as the city attorney for Cave Junction – 4,297 votes (42.50%) to 5,779 votes (57.16%), while Wright lost to Nancy L. Reese, a former physical therapy aide and nutrition company senior manager – 4,514 votes (44.79%) to 5,535 votes (54.92%). Both Patrick Kelly and Nancy Reese had been endorsed by the Josephine County Republican Party. Fischer-Maki and Wright’s terms will end June 30.