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OSBA's Larsen calls for education investment at OBP summit

Education leaders, including OSBA Vice President LeeAnn Larsen, addressed the need for investing in education Dec. 5 before an audience of hundreds of Oregon's top business minds and government officials.

Speaking in a morning education panel at the the Oregon Business Plan's (OBP) 14th Annual Oregon Leadership Summit in Portland, Larsen said local schools would face hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts under the 2017-19 budget proposed last week by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. In Beaverton schools, where Larsen serves as a board member, potentially $22 million in cuts loom.

"Our class sizes will go up," Larsen said.

She said Beaverton's Board has invested in career education, the arts and early learning to help boost graduation rates and reduce the achievement gap.

"When you start early you reap the benefits in graduation rates," Larsen said.

But such investments are being placed in peril, she said.

"Facing these budget cuts, it looks like we won't be able to continue," she said. "It feels like one step forward and two steps back."

Other members of the education panel were Deanna Palm of the Portland Community College Board and Bill Thorndike of the Southern Oregon University Board.

Echoing comments by business leaders earlier in the summit, Palm called for open conversation around revenue reform to pay for vital government services such as education.

"It's a conversation that has to come from all sides," Palm said. "We have to talk about how to increase revenue as well."

Earlier, Patrick Criteser, OBP's chairman, said businesses are committed to investing in education and human services, and are open to discussing all options to do so.

"We know that taxes must be part of the equation," he said.

Criteser also said businesses want to focus on cost drivers, including hundreds of millions of dollars annually related to unfunded obligations of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).

Rukaiyah Adams, a Board member of the Oregon Investment Council, said that unless the state faces its growing PERS debts, "we will have allowed a numeric deficit to become a moral deficit."

OSBA's primary focus in the 2017 legislative session will be addressing the revenue reform issue, including such cost drivers as PERS.