School board takes stock of public feedback over budget cuts

Feb. 2, 2011

On Feb. 23, the school board will make its first review of an amended recommendation for proposed cuts.

That's the next step in the arduous cost-cutting process that started earlier in January with three public forums to hear comment on a wide range of potential cuts that could be made to meet the needed $3.5 million reduction for 2011-12.

"The big issue is equity," said school board chairwoman Liz Whitmore. "That's what we heard, foremost from folks, who were obviously very concerned about the elementary cuts."

"It was loud and clear," District Business Manager Nick Hogan said.

"I heard a lot of concerns about all-day kindergarten, and I think we all heard concerns that there was an apparent inequity between grade levels.

"And that is something that we will be looking at all through the month of February," Hogan said.

The revised budget recommendations will be formulated by Superintendent Charlie Beck and his cabinet, which includes Hogan and other administrators.

The potential cuts initially presented by the district include elementary PE and music, 12 teaching positions, all middle school sports, reducing kindergarten to half day, turning Pine Grove into an early intervention center and selling Frankton School, with Pine Grove students moved to Mid Valley Elementary.

"There was a general feeling of asking 'What can we as a community do to help?'" Whitmore said, "and urging the district to provide balance between all levels."

Whitmore was pleased with the forum process, particularly "the level of interest and civility and constructive, solution-oriented ideas."

Among ideas put forth by the community, two stood out for Whitmore; the first, changing kindergarten to a three-day, full-day program "is something we'll want to look at," she said.

The second is forming a district-wide parent/teacher organization, rather than PTOs at individual schools, as a way of ensuring equity whenever funding decisions need to made.

"We are going to increasingly look to the community to provide more funding and to keep it more equitable," Whitmore said.

One citizen-based effort already happening is the Save Our Schools fundraising organization, which holds its first meeting Feb. 2 (6 p.m. at Columbia Gorge Community College in Hood River)..

Hogan said the district will make adjustments to the proposed cuts after reviewing the community feedback as well as two critical parts of the decision-making formula: the governor's proposed budget and the latest state revenue forecast. (The governor was scheduled to release the proposed budget Tuesday).

Early indications are that Kitzhaber will recommend increasing the K-12 portion of the state budget from $5.4 million to $5.55 million.

"If that happens, it's in the range of half a million dollars" (for Hood River County School District), Hogan said.

Hogan said that in the forums on the initial budget cut proposal, the district heard a strong message from the community over the apparent disparity between cuts to elementary schools compared with middle and high school programs.

"There was no attempt to make it strictly percentage-based, as was the basic approach in the past," Hogan said.

"The philosophy was 'Where we can we hurt kids the least?'" he said. "We'll definitely be taking another look at it with those concerns in mind."

"We expect the board will give us some direction at that time," he said.

Whitmore said, "One of the things we're grappling with is over the last three years we've made larger cuts in the secondary. It's not as transparent as it is now. The challenge is to balance it out."

"None of this is 'extra'" she said. "To cut any of it is painful."

It is up to the board, and the community, to determine what its priorities are and what should be funded, according to Whitmore.

"It's all part of a holistic approach to education, and what our kids need, defining our core requirements and what we need to do to make them succeed."

An earlier Hood River News article stated that the board would receive the updated budget recommendation at its next meeting, on Feb. 9, at Wy'east Middle School. That meeting starts at 7 p.m., but the board's next scheduled discussion on the budget is Feb. 23.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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