Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, made a "poignant" plea on behalf of Hood River Valley High School (HRVHS) athletes and their families.
On April 18, Metsger told the state Board of Education that redistricting by the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) jeopardized the rural school both financially and educationally.
"I have just come out of six hours of very emotional budget decision making as a member of the legislative emergency board," Metsger told board members. "Key funding for very important programs dealing with domestic violence, and early childhood intervention and health care, have been put aside because the dollars are not available at this time to fulfill legislative mandates.
"Our school faces tremendous cuts in key programs and services to our kids and we are asking every member of the education community to squeeze value out of every dollar so that impacts on our children can be mitigated," said Metsger in both written and oral testimony.
"In light of these very difficult fiscal times it is inconceivable that we would send a message to the citizens of this state that having a well-rounded football schedule is worth the price of cutting $30,000 more from a struggling school trying to do its best to meet the needs of children . . . to reduce parental involvement in childrens activities and to take away valuable classtime from those same students," he said.
Although Metsger was not scheduled to speak on the official agenda in Salem, he said the board members graciously granted him about 30 minutes of time to make his appeal.
"I think they were extremely attentive and very moved by the argument and the position I presented to them," said Metsger, who has been working actively in recent weeks to overturn a recommendation by state hearings officer Michael Reed that the OSAA resdistricting be upheld.
The school district has taken the hearings officer to task for the scope of his review and that protest will be addressed by Reed before he forwards the issue to Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Bunn for the final word.
Under the OSAA plan presented last December, the district will be moved from the Mt. Hood Conference next school year with games that are located in Portland and east Multnomah County, one or two hours away, into the central- and eastern-Oregon based Intermountain Conference. That will require HRVHS sports to make drives of three and four hours to Bend, Redmond, Crook County, Pendleton and Hermiston. The purpose for the action presented by OSAA was that the Intermountain schools needed to add Hood River so that it would have the eight teams necessary to have two playoff berths instead of just one.
The school district is concerned about the lost classroom time involved in the OSAA plan. Officials are also worried about the strain on a budget that is already facing a $1.1 million shortfall that is necessitating personnel and program cuts.
Metsger told the state board that first priority had to be given to the fiscal, education, parental and community impacts that the OSAA action would have.
"This decision is the litmus test of the priorities we place in public education decision making," said Metsger, who has joined the school in asking that, if the redistricting is upheld, the district be given a two-year window to make the necessary financial adjustments.
Hood River School Superintendent Jerry Sessions praised Metsger for his "excellent" job of presenting the district's case. He said the school will have a representative at the May 16 board of education meeting since it is likely that Bunn will have weighed in on the issue by that time.
Metsger said the board clarified with the Attorney General's office that members had the authority to intervene and give Bunn information from its April meeting prior to his decision and ask for a full review once the decision had been made.
"Hood River's children deserve fairness, they deserve to have their educational opportunities defended and protected, they deserve the intervention of this board," said Metsger."This board has an opportunity to clearly make a statement that athletics and classroom opportunities go hand in hand. We cannot sacrifice the classroom opportunities and parental involvement so important to our children simply because a group of schools wants another football playoff spot.
"This decision is about priorities. This decision is about what we value. This decision needs to clearly articulate to the OSAA that communities and the children of those communities matter most. I trust this board will weigh those values thoughtfully and come up with a creative solution that reflects those values," Metsger said.