Budget cuts scare teachers

School counselor among those losing jobs

A librarian, an auto shop teacher, a counselor.

The hard reality of impending school budget cuts shone in the faces of three staff members during Hood River County School District budget deliberations.

A total of 8.7 staff positions, including 6.8 teachers and other licensed staff, will be lost in the coming school year, due to the budget reductions brought on by shortfalls in state funding for education.

But at last week’s final budget committee meeting a chorus of teachers, administrators and students pointed to three jobs whose reduction or elimination, they say, will be sorely felt:

Child Development Specialist Dolores Maggiore, position eliminated.

Automotive and metals teacher Dave Kaechele and librarian Kori Walsh, Hood River Valley High School, both reduced to half-time.

Supporters spoke out for all three employees at last week’s district budget committee meeting, but after nearly two hours of deliberation the committee decided to approve, without changes, a resolution recommending the $30,203,379 budget for 2002-03. The work of the committee is done for the year, though some members urged one more committee meeting, one last try at avoiding cutting the positions.

“We’ve tried and tried to make this as fair as we can. And we have,” said Gwen Gardner, the district business manager. “The budget has been massaged and massaged for months and months.”

Superintendent Jerry Sessions said some staff positions could be restored if Measure 13 passes on the May 21 Primary Election ballot; no further staff cuts are planned if Measure 13 fails, Sessions said.

The district Board of Directors is scheduled to adopt a 2002-03 budget in its meeting on June 26 7 p.m. hearing, (The board’s next meeting is tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the district office.)

Throughout the budget process, the committee faced the basic reality as depicted by Superintendent Jerry Sessions: “The district will not receive adequate funds to continue the current level of educational programs and must reduce expenditure so balance the budget,” Sessions stated in his written budget message.

The budget totals $44.3 million including funds, such as $2.6 million for serving bonds and other district debt and $5.3 million in capital improvements.

Every school and nearly every program will feel the impact of the cuts, which total $1.3 million in 2002-03.

To meet budget cuts next year, principals are planning to cut textbooks, supplies and funding for staff development.

“A little bit from everything,” as Westside principal Terri Vann put it.

After principals’ reports, budget committee chairman Mike Moore asked for public comments, and the most impassioned testimony was on Maggiore’s behalf.

“We’re not talking about fluff,” Parkdale principal Pat Echanis said. “We’ll miss that position.”

“The kids see her on a regular basis,” Vann said. “I’ll feel it. I don’t have the experience in that area,” she said, referring to the elementary principals’ need to take on some of the counseling and resource work in the absence of the Child Development Specialist position. “We’ll definitely feel the loss of that position,” Vann said.

Maggiore serves May Street, Westside and Parkdale schools, doing individual counseling, staff and parent consultations, group counseling, home visits, and coordinating behavior development plans with schools, families, and community agencies. She also coordinates the Second Step Violence Prevention Program, does classroom presentations, and visits classrooms to observe individual students.

“By eliminating the CDS position, it is important for the school board to understand that the district’s ability to intervene on the proactive and ‘at-risk’ level for our students will be severely curtailed,” school psychologists Suzanne Warren and Rod Windle wrote to the budget committee on April 29.

Westside teacher Shannon Perry said Maggiore “benefits not only the staff, but she builds up all the students by developing greater respect. There are a lot of children who got the help they needed because Dolores knew what to do. My effectiveness would be diminished without her.”

Maggiore said in a written statement last week that, “According to (author) Bonnie Benard, the single most important factor in raising resilient kids, kids able to resist the pull of drugs and alcohol or violence others and self is connectedness to at least one significant, caring adult.

“Too often, we educators, counselors, forget the impact we have on children and fail to see that we are that one significant caring individual in that child’s life. I have played that role, I’m told, or I’ve been allowed to connect kids to that one person or school or family. Our children talk about fairness. When a child doesn’t get his or her way, she or he says ‘It’s not fair.’

“In Second Step, our anti-violence program, we teach them rather about justice, that all of them should get their fair share. If the position of child Development Specialist is eliminated, I might say it’s unfair. Rather all of us should speak to the injustice to all children who will not get their due.

“We are living in hard times. Times when decisions don’t come easy or cheap. Times when it is especially hard to be courageous in the name of what is right. Those of us who would want to be that one significant, caring person or could possibly be it unwittingly maybe it is time for us to have the courage to stand up straight to ensure that justice is done for all children.”

Walsh appealed to the budget committee to recommend her position be kept intact, saying, “it’s not enough to have a collection of things. It’s important to have a trained guide.” She has expanded the media center collection from 1,100 titles to 14,545 in her eight years in the position, and has overseen the development of the facility’s technology.

“We hope to keep the library open as many hours as we can,” principal Ben Kolb said. “We hope to staff it by moving classified staff in as much as we can. It’s a high use area. We’ll lose some service.”

Supporters also joined Kaechele in pleading for full funding of the metals and auto shop program. Kaechele said, “I’ll find a job somewhere else, but these kids will not have this program.”

Senior Quentin Shields said, “if it wasn’t for this program, I probably wouldn’t be in school.”

Kaechele said the classes teach “reading and math skills, and orderly thinking.”

“Dave has educational as well as industry experience,” said John Brennan, social science and drafting teacher. He said 154 students have signed up for metals and automotive classes next year.

“We’re saying ‘no’ to them,” Brennan said. “That will be 154 kids without something they want to do in that period, and the rest of the program without a qualified teacher. Save the program for the kids.”

But Kolb said the school will sustain the program.

“There will be no loss of the program, just fewer units offered,” he said.

Some other examples of cuts to personnel and programs throughout the district:

* In Cascade Locks, the school will blend first grade and kindergarten, which principal Chris Daniels said will lead to “a difficult first year, but then it will get better.”

* At Hood River Middle School, the seventh grade choir and two seventh grade guitar classes will be cut, but eighth grade choir will be retained “to feed the high school program.”

“Cutting is not easy but we try to look at where we have the least impact on kids,” principal Bob Dais said.

* The high school athletic department faces more than $100,000 in cuts next year. Athletic director Glenn Elliott said the school will have to cut 8.5 part-time coaching jobs, and the junior varsity two basketball team will be eliminated. The program will cut $4,000 in supplies.

“We’re taking as large a cut in supplies as we can to keep coaches,” said Elliott, whose own position is also being eliminated in 2002-03.

He added that the impending increase in transportation costs would have to come out of user fees and gate receipts — which won’t necessarily lead to higher ticket prices, but the funds will need to be diverted from their current use, “large ticket” capital purchases.

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