Two Philomath-related measures appear on the Nov. 8 ballot — renewal of the school district’s five-year local operating levy and a proposed moratorium on certain psilocybin activities in Philomath. (Artwork design by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath School District’s proposed renewal of its five-year local operating levy appears on the Nov. 8 general election ballot and one of the voices behind the effort can speak in detail about the importance of those funds to local educators and students.

Christopher McMorran, who was appointed to the Philomath School Board back in early August and prior had served on the school district’s Budget Committee, said he has two primary messages that he wants voters to know. First, a “yes” vote doesn’t mean folks will see a bump in their tax rates — the renewal only continues what is already in place.

The K-12 operating levy carries a tax rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Second, McMorran said the funds help cover the cost of some of the school district’s most meaningful programs to students.

“The kinds of programs that keep kids on track to graduate that have a lot of value to our external community in addition to our students and our staff,” he said. “Things like forestry, natural resources, performing arts, our CTE programs — shop, culinary arts, business development. These skills are important and give students those foundations to have a really successful career and future after high school.”

The local operating levy funds also help cover the expense of things that are of benefit to the community at large, such as those who enjoy Clemens Community Pool and the groups that use school district facilities like the gym and athletic fields.

If the levy is renewed, it will raise nearly $6 million over the next five years — approximately $1.12 million in 2023-24, $1.15 million in 2024-25, $1.19 million in 2025-26, $1.23 million in 2026-27 and $1.26 million in 2027-28.

McMorran points to what he said is the school district’s successful track record with how the funds have been used over the local operating levy’s original approval in 2013 and a renewal in 2018.

“Over the last two cycles, we have kept all the promises that we made in 2018 when this was passed, we’ve maintained all of our licensed staff positions, we have not cut any of those programs and our graduation rates have been very high, much higher than the state average. We have won athletic championships, we won the OSAA Cup.

“So I hope that shows the community that we are being good stewards of their funds,” McMorran continued. “They’re not just handing us a pile of cash, they’re handing us opportunities for the students that we’re putting to good use.”

The school district sees the local operating levy as a crucial part of the budget. If the renewal fails, for example, some of those programs McMorran mentioned could be the first to go.

“In order to meet state graduation requirements, kids have to take math and they have to take science and they have to take English and language arts — those core classes,” he said. “If we lose this funding, we have to keep those programs, which means that all of those other things I mentioned would unfortunately be the first to go, simply because we would have to cut something and those are not what we are legally required to offer.”

McMorran said if that sort of scenario unfolded, the results could be very unfortunate.

“If forestry is the thing keeping you in school and we no longer offer forestry, then you’re probably going to struggle in your other classes,” he said. “If you don’t have that motivation, our graduate rates could decline. So to us, those co-curricular/CTE programs, they may not be those classic academic programs but they absolutely benefit the entire academic offering at our schools.”

The original levy vote in 2013 passed by a fairly slim 53-47 margin while the 2018 renewal vote was much more decided with a 70-30 margin of approval.

The Benton County Voters’ Pamphlet, which many received in their mailboxes this week with ballots soon to follow, the local operating levy renewal (officially titled Measure 2-137) is shown to have strong support with five separate groups or individuals writing arguments in favor of passage and none against.

Among those arguing in favor of the measure are 32 individuals, including all five School Board members, all six city councilors, the mayor and all three county commissioners, and 17 others. Representatives from the Philomath Education Association, Strengthening Rural Families and the Oregon School Employees Association’s Philomath chapter also favor its passage. Mayor Chas Jones individually submitted an argument in favor as well.

“From my perspective, and I hope the community shares this perspective, our schools have seen successes,” McMorran said. “I know the last few years have been challenging for students, but I think that’s part of it. Now is not the time to cut programs and lay off teachers. We need all the support we can get. Students need all of the staff support, all of those programs that enrich their in-person school lives.”

Psilocybin also on the ballot

In addition to the school district’s local operating levy renewal, voters will also need to make a decision about a proposed plan to place a two-year moratorium on facilities within the city limits that manufacture or administer psilocybin products.

In 2020, Oregon voters approved the legalization of limited use of the hallucinogen with passage of Measure 109, which automatically opts in local governments. But it also included a process through which cities and counties can back out. Local officials could decide to refer to voters either a two-year moratorium or an outright ban on psilocybin services.

The Philomath City Council could have chosen to do nothing and allow Measure 109 to take effect. Or, the council could’ve put before the voters a proposed permanent ban on psilocybin services. The council debated the issue in August and approved on a 4-3 vote of putting the moratorium on the ballot.

Philomath voters approved Measure 109 in November 2020 by a 17% margin.

If Measure 2-138 passes, the establishment of certain psilocybin activities in Philomath would be prohibited until Dec. 31, 2024. The Oregon Health Authority has a deadline to finalize psilocybin regulations by the end of this year.

Mayor Chas Jones and former mayors Eric Niemann and Van Hunsaker favor passage of the measure.

“Until we know the actual rules and regulations, we cannot make an educated choice,” the mayors wrote in a statement that appears in the Benton County Voters’ Pamphlet. “When we have the facts, we can decide whether or not to support the manufacturing and sale of psilocybin in our community. Anything else is irresponsible.”

No other arguments in favor or against the measure appear in the pamphlet.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.