Kings Valley Charter School artwork

Philomath and Kings Valley Charter School board members, along with administrative leaders from both entities, met early last week for the second time in a series of public work sessions.

The bulk of the two-hour meeting revolved around funding distribution, which has been a major sticking point for the rural charter school. Philomath Superintendent of Schools Melissa Goff led the discussion with two five-year funding model proposals — one if the school district's levy is renewed by voters next year and the other if it doesn't pass.

"I think we've made progress," KVCS board member Beth Hoinacki said afterward. "I would like to see more progress. We are not to the end point ... I'd like to see us get a little bit further along for financial support for KVCS."

Both funding models presented at the work session included Rural School Funding hikes that by the end of the five-year transition period, reaches $218,129.19 through annual increases. The current charter passes through 50 percent of those rural dollars and by 2022-23, both options show 92 percent going on to KVCS.

"It's still going to take time, but I think everybody's upbeat about it," Philomath School Board member Greg Gerding said about the financial discussion. "There are details to work out."

The separate State School Funding model passes through 92 percent to K-8 and 95 percent to 9-12 per the KVCS charter. Goff said the Oregon Department of Education requires a 95 percent pass-through on the 9-12 dollars, but the average for K-8 comes in at 83 percent.

"So the gap is pretty stark between the average pass-through rate and what we pass through," Goff said.

Those 92-95 percentages remain in the latest proposals when it comes to State School Funding.

Philomath qualifies as a district to receive Rural School Funding, and that's where the current pass-through of 50 percent to KVCS would increase by 42 percentage points by the end of a five-year period.

"There are dollars that are received from the state due to schools being located in rural, remote areas, because remotely-located schools are more expensive to operate," Goff explained when asked about Rural School Funding. "It's harder to recruit people, it's harder to retain people, transportation becomes more costly because you're gathering kids from longer distances."

Philomath also receives rural school dollars for Blodgett.

Another twist is that Rural School Funding only applies to K-8 student enrollment.

"The reason that Jamon (Ellingson, KVCS director) and I agreed that the 92 percent number made sense was because that aligns with what the State School Fund number currently is in the charter, which is 92 percent," Goff said.

Currently, Rural School Funding revenue for KVCS comes in at $519,355.22 and by the fifth year, the 92 percent passing through to the charter school would total $477,806.80. That, of course, are only ballpark figures based on the current year's funding, which in the future would likely change.

In the latter case, if the levy is not renewed, Goff said the district's bottom line would be immediately impacted with less financial flexibility for the immediate future. But the second option also hangs on to those shared goals and keeps the 92 percent pass-through by the fifth year intact.

All five members of the Philomath School Board attended the work session and four of the five KVCS board members were on hand for the meeting, along with Ellingson.

One of the more pointed questions of the evening came near the beginning of the work session from Philomath board chair Jim Kildea: "Where does everything stand with Falls City?"

To put the question in perspective, Kildea was referring to the charter school's exploration of breaking away from Philomath and seeking the Falls City School District as a new sponsor.

In May, KVCS and the Falls City School District signed a charter sponsorship agreement and community meetings followed in July with Kings Valley residents and parents providing feedback.

So to answer Kildea's question at the work session, Hoinacki said, "It's stalled out, really. We haven't been in any discussions with them about pursuing anything. They're basically off doing their own thing."

Sally Lammers, KVCS board chair, didn't dismiss the Falls City idea entirely but said all focus is now on working things out with Philomath.

"They're still there, but after our community sessions, we got the message from our community that they want us to work with and give Philomath another try to see if we can work together," Lammers said. "There hasn't been any decision. We are pursuing this option at this time. There haven't been any additional conversations with them."

The PSD-KVCS group first met in October and ground rules were established. Among them, focus on the future while not dwelling on the past, hearing every board member's voice and being respectful of listeners.

"I do feel like the dialogue's going well. I think people are listening well," Hoinacki said. "I think people are speaking freely, which is important, and there is a degree of open communication that will enable us to the work done."

The group also came up with a list of shared goals and beliefs, which included a reference to the primary discussion of the evening — "funding should be equitable for both KVCS and PSD."

"The top thing is we are better together, we all want to understand everyone's perspective and we are focused on collaboration," said Gerding, making references to the shared goals and beliefs. "I think both sides are energetic and we're really coming together ... we want to make things work."

Joint work sessions will continue in the future, Goff said, based on the direction she receives from the board. Hoinacki estimated "maybe two more work sessions and maybe get this wrapped up."

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