Budget and boundary discussions dominated the Hood River County School District Board meeting on Wednesday.
Superintendent Dan Goldman gave an update on the boundary change process and the board heard three community members call for a slower and “more transparent” process of boundary change consideration.
He also announced that the district plans to add an unspecified number of teaching and support staff position in 2019-20 in light of “optimistic” state school budget expectations.
The district will begin its budget committee process in late April.
Goldman said the boundary adjustments are intended to address current and potential discrepancies in district services because of overcrowding at some schools and under-enrollment at others.
“It feels like the solution is far more dramatic than the problem,” said parent Kristin Dahl.
“It’s a fast-paced process,” said parent Brian Shaw. “One of my main concerns in reviewing all the data, (is that) forecasting data for next 10 years makes me wonder if we need to make things happen this fast. Other concerns are the increased bus time, increased carbon footprint, and the breaking up of come neighborhoods,” he said.
Goldman noted that the Ways and Means Committee in the Legislature has indicated a K-12 budget will include a State School Fund that falls $100 million short, statewide, of what most school districts need to avoid cuts next year.
“It will require hard and bad choices,” Goldman said.
He added that Gov. Kate Brown’s budget had recommended that the extra $100 million would go to schools, which, he said “would keep most schools with their noses above the waterline, in terms of being able to carry forward the same level of programs next year, but it’s out of her hands right now, in the legislature’s hands, and it’s $100 million short right now.
“In terms of our community, we have some very generous support and we have a local bond and local levy in addition to State School Fund money and, because we have that extra padding, we’re able to be a little more optimistic in our budget planning than most other school districts.,” said Goldman, who will step down at the end of the school year to become superintendent of Northeast Oregon Education Service District.
“So we’ve decided to utilize the governor’s funding number, assuming that $100 million will be back in the budget for K-12, and we are preparing to add programs, which is really exciting for our programs and for our kids,” he said.
“That means additional teachers to drive down class sizes even more, and we’re already lower than the state average. We are also planning to increase support staffing to address students’ social, emotional and behavioral health, so that means more counseling FTE, more Special Education staffing, as well as associate principals at the three larger elementary schools.
At the next boundary change forum, April 23, the district will present a revised proposal from the boundary change committee, following feedback given at the first boundary change forum, on April 2.
“I need to reiterate that it is a real problem that needs to be addressed,” Goldman said. “We have schools with no room for classrooms at this time. There is simply no space. At the same time we have ample space at other schools.”
Goldman announced that the district is about to close one long-standing program gap by creating a new pre-school program at May Street Elementary, the only school in the district “currently without a pre-school option for families,” according to Goldman.
The district has been in negotiation with the Mid Columbia Children’s Council on a binding agreement for a new pre-school at May Street. Goldman said the entities are on track to present the agreement for board approval at its next meeting, April 24 at Pine Grove School.
Goldman said that 38 percent of incoming kindergarten students have access to, or attend, a formal preschool program, meaning 62 percent have “no formal pre-schooling before enrolling in our schools.
“Also, (the district has) some of lowest rates of kindergarten readiness,” he said.
“When kids start with us in kindergarten there are already fairly severe achievement gaps between student groups, and it’s a lot of pressure on our system to close those gaps and get our kids to the finish line at the same level,” Goldman said.
“A high-quality pre-school is a big goal of mine and a big goal of the board’s for some time. In the last three years, we have doubled our pre-school footprint in our schools through Community Ed pre-schools,” he said.
The agreement with the Children’s Council lays out “expectations and conditions” for the district to contract with Council for full-day Kindergarten for about 18 students in 2019-20. Parkdale Elementary Principal Gus Hedberg and Community Education Director Matt Rankin are heading up the process.