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Board views new plans for Buff

May use Buff Elementary for sixth grades, and some kindergartens

   A different plan for which grades to attend Buff Elementary was proposed at the Monday night meeting of the School District 509-J Board of Directors.
   Superintendent Keith Johnson suggested that, instead of kindergarten through fifth-graders, Buff could be used for all sixth-graders in the 509-J district, in addition to three or four kindergarten rooms from Madras Elementary.
   "That configuration would allow all sixth grades to come together in one building without anything distracting them. It will allow for them to more effectively transition from the fifth grades in four different elementary schools," Johnson said, adding it would also allow teachers to align curriculum for sixth graders coming out of the different schools.
   Johnson explained that the kindergarten through fifth grade plan for Buff had been developed to handle student growth coming from a state prison being built in Madras. However, the prison project has been delayed for two years.
   "Without that increased growth, we are without the (state school support funds) to occupy that building," Johnson said, adding a kindergarten through fifth grade school would also "drain all our personnel and we would not be able to address curriculum." Once the prison is built, he indicated the school could then become a kindergarten through fifth grade school, since increased enrollment would bring an increase in state school support funds.
   "If we open as a K-five school it would cost $580,000, and if we open as a sixth and kindergarten school, the cost would be $177,000. It would be a $400,000 savings each year for two years, and that's significant," Johnson said.
   Several teachers and parents in the audience expressed concerns over the new proposal. Objections were made to mixing the older and younger kids, isolating kindergarteners away from other students closer to their age and size, disparity of class sizes at different schools, and frequent shifting of what school students attend.
   Board members decided to take the proposal as a first reading in order to give administrators a chance to talk it over with staff and to obtain public input. It will be discussed again at the Jan. 10 board meeting.
   During citizen comments, parent Letty Goodson complimented the district on the remodeling and expansion of Madras High School, but noted the school stage was experiencing problems.
   A stage side door, which used to allow actors to use other rooms for costume changes, props and waiting until their appearance on stage, was sealed off when the commons was constructed.
   During the last play, 30 to 40 actors had to remain backstage behind the curtains for the entire three hours of the play (including during costume changes), since they couldn't exit without the audience seeing them.
   Goodson suggested some sort of side exit be constructed for the stage. "We have all these beautiful new facilities, but the drama department really took a hit," she said.
   Board members met with Dr. John Young, Oregon School Board Association superintendent search consultant, to discuss how to go about interviewing candidates and doing reference checks.
   "I was very pleased with the pool of applicants this year. Last year we had 14, and this year we have 20 and they are superior quality individuals," Young said.
   He urged the board to conduct interviews as soon as possible in order not to lose candidates to other districts seeking superintendents.
   "We are the first district in Oregon to be at this stage. We started (advertising) in the fall and are ahead of the game," he said.
   Under personnel, Kevin Urbach was hired as the MHS JV softball coach and Lori Bainbridge as the assistant coach. Resignations were accepted from MHS head track coach Lonnie Henderson, middle school teacher Anne Clark, and Westside teacher Jill Shreve.