School matters: Grants represent public support; there are other ways to help

Between PERS reform and less-than-robust state education budget projections, it is sobering but instructive to pay attention to the fiscal future of classroom programs in 2013-14.

The schoolhouse is not some separate place where Education Happens; more and more the reality is communities must play a role in funding as well as in-kind support of schools.

One glowing example of how this is done is the long list of grants under Hood River County Education Foundation’s annual Innovative Teaching Awards program, announced on page A1.

“Robust Vocabulary: Text Talk,” an intense vocabulary and reading comprehension program; “IXL,” a computer-based learning system for math, books for second-grade guided reading, and a science kit called “Structure of Life,” are just a few of the tools and curricula that will enhance students’ understanding of math, science, and reading.

A portable museum program, supplies to help students while traveling, and noise-reducing headphones for students with sensory issues are examples of unique and specialized uses of the funding.

These grants do not come from the district general fund or state school support. It is donations, outside foundations, and ticket sales for the annual Trail Band concert, that helped make the teacher grants possible.

The grants, totaling $18,248, amount to a gift the community gives to itself, via our children.

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Community involvement in the schools is also possible in two other ways.

First, consider filing to serve on one of the four positions on School Board that are up for election this year. Board members provide a critical service and it is a major commitment to serve, but candidates are needed.

Second, the public has the chance to take part in the last phase of the months-long superintendent search.

The board is poised to hire a successor to Charlie Beck, who is stepping down in June. As outlined on page A1, the community can meet and offer input this week on the two final candidates for the schools’ top appointed office.

The importance of broad public input on the decision is underscored by the fact that as many as four of the current seven school board members who will make the selection will not be in office after December.

This depends, of course, on how many incumbents decide to file again (two have said they do not plan to) and the outcome of the vote itself.

Further, the district has had a variety of superintendents in the 11 years since Chuck Bugge retired: five, to be exact, including two interims. Beck will complete three years in the post, about the average for Oregon superintendents.

This is not exactly a revolving door, but stability in the next superintendent should be on everyone’s minds as this process plays out. The next superintendent will need to see the district through two difficult state biennial budget cycles, and key challenges such as PERS reform are on five-year, not two-year, tracks.

Ideally, the next superintendent should be someone the community can reasonably envision still being on the job in five or so years. Personal and organizational needs and circumstances are always subject to change, but the longevity of the next superintendent should be the framework for this important decision.

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