$700k boost is a ‘good challenge’

Legislation gives $100 million to Oregon schools, HR County excited about its slice of the pie

On the road and in a changing space, Hood River County School District board of directors met Wednesday and heard about impacts out of Salem along with local cooperative efforts at the school.

“None of the reforms passed by the Legislature in the recent Special Session will have a direct impact this year,” superintendent Dan Goldman told the board in its meeting in the new Community Room at Cascade Locks School, which includes a computer lab and is soon to become the Cascade Locks library branch.

The bills out of the Special Session will mean a statewide increase of $100 million for the State School Fund for K-12 in this biennium (2013-15), Hood River Valley is poised to receive $670,000 to $700,000— but none until the 2014-15 year.

“It’s exciting, but it poses a challenge as we prepare to budget. But it’s a good challenge,” said Goldman, who joined the district July 1.

However, Goldman said that with regarding PERS, “There is less clarity in terms of finance and programs.”

The Legislature also passed a bill that changed reduced some school payments into the pension system known as PERS (Public Employment Retirement System).

Whether you are for or against the actions taken by the Legislature, the reality is that there will be a reduction in the PERS rate, which means we will have the opportunity to put it toward student programs, but the fact is it also affects employees and retirees and it’s hard stuff.”

County Administrator David Meriweather and County Health Officer Ellen Larsen told the school board the new community clinic to open next to the meeting room. Meriweather said the final agreement was scheduled to be signed this week, allowing the clinic to operate one day a week as planned. The County and the School District are collaborating on health clinics in Cascade Locks and at Mid Valley Elementary in Odell, in which the schools provide the space and the county provides public services and Center for Living provides mental health services. Cascade Locks will operate on Wednesdays and Odell will be open on Thursdays.

The School Board also heard from Hood River County Library Director Buzzy Nielsen, who noted that the room they were sitting in will become the Cascade Locks branch library by July 2014. The library district also operates a Parkdale in addition to the downtown Hood River branch. The school and library districts have formed a partnership that will move the Cascade Locks branch from City Hall to Cascade Locks School. “We have really appreciated the city allowing us to use the space but they need more room and so do we,” Nielsen said.

The agreement with the schools should be complete by spring, and Nielsen expects the move to happen by July. The new arrangement is literally and figuratively a flexible one. The library can be operated separately from the rest of the school building, but the school and the library will also cooperate in jointly using the library and its computers.

“I’ll be talking with Mr. Nielsen a lot about how we can work together,” Vogel said. The library currently operates days and evenings, so there will be times when school is in session and the library is open.

The community room will remain available for meetings. The library branch will employ portable shelving and the room can be divided with existing folding doors. The community room is independently accessible from both sides That way, part of the room can be reserved for meetings or as a computer lab. The library district is increasing its youth outreach county-wide, Nielsen, who also noted a surprising statistic about how the Cascade Locks branch is used: 20 percent of the district’s computer use takes place in Cascade Locks, even though the city population is only 6 percent of the county-wide district.

Nielson also announced that the Library Foundation’s fundraising focus next year will be for furnishings in the Cascade Locks branch

“We’d like to thank the School District for making it available to the county, and to the community,” Meriweather said. “The ports and the county and the community college districts have always had a good working relationship and have collaborated in doing things that serve the community. And the fact is you don’t see that everywhere you go, but it has always been a quality you’ll find here.” Goldman returned the compliment, praising Meriweather and other county employees for their quick response in putting the clinic together

Larson noted that the clinic will not refuse service to anyone, but the county’s service are on fee basis, either insurance reimbursable or a sliding scale. For example, vaccinations are refunded via federal programs, but county also charges a fee for the service. Ramona Ropek of Center For Living said simiar arrangements are made for counseling and other mental health services at the clinics, and there is no additional cost for their services to people on the Oregon Health Plan.

Board members asked principal Kim Vogel to address concerns over the clinic operating at the same time that students are in the school. In the case of Cascade Locks, Vogel explained, the clinic has a separate entrance that will be clearly marked with clinic hours and phone number, to prevent people using the school entrance or calling the school office. Further, the hallway door to the school will be locked.

“This will be an educational piece,” she said. “We are aware of the concerns and we will be monitoring it. The children will be as safe as they possibly can be,” she said, adding that the city of CAscade Locks contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to provide a full time deputy in the community and the Sheriff’s Office is fully aware of the new arrangement.

Goldman said, “We are providing access to services close to where people live, and while there are some things we need to be careful about but in general this is a positive thing for the community.”

On Oct. 19, the Library will host a 3 p.m. ribbon cutting for the new teen area/magazine space in the atrium of the Hood River library. Teen Speak (youth advisory group) and staff will lead the cutting, with Chamber of Commerce, and refreshments will be served.

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