By editorial board • 

Woes befalling Newberg should sound alarms here

Any time political and ideological purity become the coin of the realm in local school and city affairs, making qualifications, competence, character, experience and integrity all but irrelevant, disaster is soon to follow. And that has proven all too painfully true just up the road in the Newberg School District.

Disillusioned voters realized the error of their ways last year, and swept a cadre of culture warriors off the district’s governing board. But the two years of interim havoc and turmoil have saddled the district with a massive fiscal shortfall, requiring $12.2 million in cuts in the budget for the looming 2024-25 school year.

For a district that got by on less than $55 million in the 2022-23 school year — and has seen enrollment decline since, thanks at least in part to wholesale policy and personnel disruptions — that’s a daunting number. Because personnel account for 78% of the general fund budget, making up the deficit is projected to cost the district the equivalent of 60 full-time employees next year.

The district opened the current school year with a $7.7 million surplus. Nine months later, it finds itself $3.7 million in the hole, an $11.4 million turn the wrong direction.

School finance expert Jackie Olsen, summoned in late May to help set things straight by the state’s June 30 deadline, is recommending 10 furlough days be built into next year’s calendar to save $2.1 million. Otherwise, she warned, the staff cuts would have to go even deeper.

The immediate blame belongs largely to a new superintendent, Stephen Phillips, and finance director, Heather Bixby, both of whom seemed to be in well over their heads.

The district’s former communications director, Gregg Koskela, accused them of “gross negligence and mismanagement” in a detailed online analysis of the disaster. And he concluded by calling for their resignations.

But it was the board’s culture warrior majority that dumped a well-regarded district veteran in favor of the more ideologically compatible Phillips. And it did so even though Phillips had been fired in Beaverton and suspended in Jewell, the latter in connection with an alleged cover-up of teacher-student sexual abuse.

Bixby has dropped out of sight in recent weeks, and Phillips has been skipping meetings. That suggested they might be on their way out.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, which Phillips also missed, Chair Nancy Woodward announced he had begun a two-month medical leave. She said former longtime Newberg School Superintendent Paula Radich had agreed to fill in during the leave period — and to extend her service beyond that if need be — at no cost to the district.

That’s great news, as Radich is an old hand who’d also served as an interim superintendent in Salem and Beaverton. Completing the circle, the district also confirmed that Bixby had gone on leave and been replaced by an interim.

Nonetheless, the Newberg school system figures to continue feeling the effects for years to come. While damage may be inflicted with great speed, recovery tends to be a long drawn-out slog.

McMinnville has had to fend off well-funded, well-coordinated takeover attempts of its own in both city and school elections in recent years.

Here’s hoping the Newberg debacle will steel us against allowing ideology to trump competence in McMinnville. Letting our guard down at the polls could prove just as costly here as it has there.



While I would love to blame the Newberg school district's budget woes on the inept former board members and their inept choice in superintendents, a broader news perspective provides us with other factors that need to be considered given the budget problems of other school districts like Salem/Keiser and Portland. One of my news sources (maybe a state legislator) reported on the budget process at the state level wherein funds are allocated to school districts according to a formula that doesn't seem to be working very well. This is truly disappointing if the state fails to allocate funds and then distributes large sums back to taxpayers in the form of the "kicker" refund. The same problem may be affecting local government budgets as well as funding for institutions like the state mental hospital.


I am a Christian but I do not force my beliefs on the public. To do so would be a blatant disregard of our forefathers' constitutional concept of separation of church and state.

These five justified exorbitant waste of time and money, and tremendous pain to others, as adherence to Christian faith.

The leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, Maulana Fazlullah, also believed he was serving God. In the beginning he encouraged people to adopt good habits. Eventually he warned people to stop listening to music, watching movies and dancing. . . it got a lot worse.

You may think it ridiculous to compare the Newberg five to the Taliban. But forcing personal religious rules on others is an age-old theme throughout history and the world. And the result is always tremendous damage, pain and suffering.

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