Public to school board: Cuts unfair to elementary kids

Jan. 26, 2011

Cascade Locks was the location, but not the focus, of public comments Monday about proposed school cuts. Only two people referred to the suggested closure of Cascade Locks School during the last of three budget forums held by the Hood River County School Board. In the meeting in the Cascade Locks gymnasium, neither of those speakers were Cascade Locks residents. Instead, what dominated was testimony about elementary cuts in general, including kindergarten and music and PE specialists, and ways to support extracurricular programs. The forum was the third of three held by the district to hear input from the community on a wide range of proposed cutbacks the district is considering to make up a $3.8 million shortfall in the 2011-12 budget. At Monday's forum, the most passionate speakers were the defenders of all-day kindergarten; one proposed cut is reducing kindergarten to half-day, the minimum required by state law. Most of the speakers were parents and teachers from May Street, Westside and Pine Grove schools. "I am here to ask a question. Are the cuts fair?" asked Callie Vannet, a May Street kindergarten teacher, herself an alum of May Street, Hood River Middle School, and HRVHS. "Are we doing the best we can for students of all levels with these cuts?" Vannet asked. "Are we doing the best we can for students of all levels next year? Or in three years? Or in 10 years?" Andrea Duckwall noted that cuts such as half-day kindergarten could save money in one way but lose revenue in other ways, as parents transfer their students out of the districts. "Consider the revenue you'd be losing if parents choose other kindergartens for their children. You'd be losing fund-raising parents as well as their children," said Duckwall, who described music and PE as "my children's sports and drama." Vannet read a letter signed by numerous May Street faculty members that read, in part, "We believe the current proposed list of cuts treats elementary students unfairly and places a higher value on secondary students." The letter stated, "we believe asking 46 percent of your student population to shoulder 58 percent of the $3.8 million in proposed cuts to be wrong while the remaining 54 percent of the students (at the middle and high school levels) absorb 19 percent." Rodger Schock of Hood River said, "We want to do what's best for every kid in the district, and I am particularly concerned about closing this school, in Cascade Locks. If any school is the soul of the community, it's this one." The only other person to mention Cascade Locks was County Commissioner Karen Joplin, a May Street parent whose west Hood River County district includes Cascade Locks. She said "a local school serves as a measure of livability for a community" and is a key factor in economic development. "These cuts are a terrible burden for our students. There is an unfair burden on the youngest children of our district." Bobby Walker of Cascade Locks, the ex-officio member of the School Board, said the community is focusing on getting a Charter School in place in the community, rather than on proposed cuts. "We're still kind of grieving as a community over the closure of the high school," he said of the district's 2010 decision. Walker's wife, Myra, is vice president of the Charter School committee, said the group is confident it can get a Charter School running by fall 2011. "We're working with the School District to reach some kind of a conclusion," she said. It could involve use of the school building, with the Charter School running grades 6-12 and the district operating grades 1-5, or another facility," Myra Walker said. "Meetings are scheduled in the next two weeks on curriculum and facilities, and then the committee will return to the school board with another proposal." "Our goal is to be in operation this fall, and we believe it will happen," added Ms. Walker. Superintendent Charlie Beck assured those present that the board and budget committee, all of whom were present, would consider all possibilities and strive for fairness, during budget-setting process that will start this spring. "We beg you to remember that we have a huge amount we need to cut, and not everyone is going to get what they want," Beck said, holding his hands to his heart as he spoke. He reiterated that all the proposals are intended to form the early part of what he calls "the conversation" and that no decisions have been made on what will be cut.

The School Board's next meeting, is Jan. 26, 7 p.m. at the district office. The board will hear a report on the community budget forums, but will not take testimony on the topic. On Feb. 9, a list of tentative reductions will be announced at the school board meeting, 7 p.m. at Wy'east Middle School. The first meeting of the district Budget Committee will be April 6, 6 p.m., at Hood River Middle School.

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