Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The community has been turning out in force to give its input on the Hood River County School District's budget crisis for 2011-12.
Civility has prevailed at the first two forums, with plenty of speakers lining up to sum up their thoughts in four short minutes.
Faced with the task of trimming $3.5 million from next year's budget, the district administration has held two of three scheduled public forums to give concerned citizens an opportunity to share those concerns as well as possible solutions with the budget committee, the school board and the administration.
The next - and final - community forum will take place Monday at Cascade Locks School, 6-8 p.m.
The forums are set up not as Q&A sessions but as an opportunity for the public to speak and the budget committee, school board and administration to listen.
Supt. Charlie Beck has opened the first two forums with an explanation of the current budget crisis, an outline of the recommended list of cuts and a list of cuts considered but for the moment ruled out for one reason or another - such as closing the Cascade Locks School or the Dos Mundos charter school.
He added that the second list should still be "part of the conversation."
At that point the session is turned over to the speakers.
Not surprisingly, most of the speakers have been there to plead for certain recommended cuts to be spared - the transfer of Pine Grove students to Mid Valley, reduction of counselors, the elimination of art and music programs at elementary schools as well as full-day kindergarten.
"This is something we absolutely do not want to do," Beck said of reducing the kindergarten day. "The data tells us how very important to academic development is full day kindergarten, but we have to do something."
Regarding cutting elementary PE and music positions, he said, "This pains us but we don't have a lot of choice."
Counselor Karen Meyers noted that counselors work directly with teachers in helping students with a variety of social, emotional, and domestic issues to deal with
"Do counselors have an impact on attendance? On test scores? On graduation rates? Yes, we do," Meyers said.
Though the speakers are for the most part defending the programs and jobs on the chopping block, many have tried to come up with other ways to save or raise money.
Cutting school days is one idea, but Beck said, "I'd like to give the teachers as much of the academic year as possible."
"But we have to do something. The kids are coming in September."
Listening at the forums are district members of the budget committee and the school board, including member Mark Johnson, who took office Jan. 2 as the Oregon House Representative for District 52 (Hood River County and part of Clackamas County).
"The (Oregon) Legislature issues a lot of rhetoric about funding for education having flat-lined," Beck said.
"The fact is, overall the amount spent on K-12 has gone down in the past five years from 44.9 percent of the general fund to 38 percent.
"We're working with people like Mark (Johnson) to get that rate back up," Beck said.
Yet cuts need to be made for the coming budget, adding to the $1.09 million the district had to cut from the current budget.
The list of proposed cuts "is more than we need to cut, and that's part of the conversation," he said.
A pressing need is to balance teacher-student ratios throughout the district, which is one reason much of the early focus is on the district's smallest elementary school, Pine Grove.
Beck has proposed "repurposing" Pine Grove as the early intervention center, and selling Frankton School, where that service is currently provided.
Numerous Pine Grove supporters have spoken at both forums.
"We at Pine Grove are asked to lose the most, to move a treasured school out of the community. That's not fair," said parent Nell Able, who said that while she understands that the need to even out student ratio is behind the idea of changing the school's purpose, "We will get as lean as you want but please keep us open."
Those who work at Frankton Early Childhood Center, who would face moving their charges to the Pine Grove building under that plan, aren't happy about it either. At Thursday evening's forum at Wy'east Middle School, Laurie Mason, who has worked at Frankton for 14 years, said that the students' needs are very specific and that the Frankton building is the best fit.
"Our kids range from being severely impaired to being unable to speak clearly," she said. "Frankton is set up for disabilities. We've built a home that is just right for our needs."
Mason wondered whether the expected savings would actually be realized once the expense for necessary alterations at Pine Grove had been factored in.
The forum at Wy'east filled the school's new performing arts center to overflowing.
Beck closed the evening at Wy'east with the statement that he has been amazed at the turnouts at both events, and that it's obvious we live in a community that cares deeply about our children's education.
"I have learned something every time we get together," he said.
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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 www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge