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Parents express concern about Buff future

Pairing of sixth, kindergarten not popular

   Over 30 people concerned about the future use of Buff Elementary packed the meeting room of the 509-J board of directors Monday night.
   At the last meeting, Superintendent Keith Johnson proposed using the school for district sixth-graders and Madras Elementary kindergarteners. That proposal would help alleviate crowding at Madras Elementary and save $400,000 each year for two years (compared to the cost of opening a new kindergarten through fifth grade elementary). The expected increase in student enrollment from a prison being built in Madras, which would increase the amount of state school support funds, has not happened because the prison has been delayed, Johnson had said.
   At the Jan. 10, meeting, Johnson said he had met with Madras and Westside elementary teachers, the Jefferson County Middle School Site Council and 40-plus community members and parents. A stack of their comments and letters was handed out to board members.
   "I've heard nothing from sixth grade parents," Johnson noted.
   The 509-J administrative team also met on Friday, Jan. 7, to examine the packet of comments and explore alternatives to the kindergarten and sixth grade proposal, but they need more time to complete that process, Johnson said.
   "I recommend no action be taken tonight, and that this be taken for a third reading at the Jan. 24 meeting to give us additional time to explore alternatives," Johnson told the board.
   Board member Jeff Sanders said he wanted to see a seamless transition of students from elementary school to one common school, and a common curriculum for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
   Board member Bob Ringering had concerns that the public voted on a bond that said Buff Elementary would be a kindergarten through fifth grade school.
   Board member Julie Quaid pointed out the kindergarten/sixth grade idea "is just a short-term, temporary fix until the student population goes up. It's not permanent."
   When it came time for the audience to give their input, they almost didn't get to speak.
   Board Chair Steve Earnest asked the audience to be patient and allow board members to review the packet of community comments and discuss the matter again at the next meeting.
   "Buff is scheduled right now to come on line as a K through five school. If nothing changes, it will be that," Earnest said.
   An uneasy silence hung in the air until Sanders spoke up, asking, "During citizen comments you said to delay remarks until now, and now you're not allowing comments?
   Earnest indicated people were free to speak, and a few asked questions.
   Parent Lisa Abel asked if there would be another meeting for parents of affected kindergarteners? Johnson said yes, at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 13, in the board meeting room.
   Parent Stacie Reed asked if parents of fourth and fifth graders could also attend the meeting. Johnson said he would ask principals to contact those parents and invite them.
   "We don't have any concrete method of knowing where the bulge (in student population) will be when the prison comes," said parent Keri Satterlee.
   By putting an odd mix of grades in Buff, she warned, "You could alienate four, five, six grades of children. There will be no normal school experience for them."
   In other business:
   . On the matter of an off-stage door needed for the Madras High School stage, it was noted the idea was rejected because a handicap ramp would also have to be installed and that would take up too much of the student commons.
   . The technology department reported a $73,000 federal grant will pay most of the $90,000 that the district had budgeted to spend on computer technology this year.
   . Marie Calica gave an update on goals of the Warm Springs Education Committee, listing the construction of a new school in Warm Springs, and the development of a charter school as top priorities.
   . District auditor Greer Mahr and Associates LLP gave the district a "very clean opinion" and complemented the professionalism of the business staff.
   . Johnson reported that during the annual state review, the 509-J District was declared to be in compliance with Oregon Standards for elementary and secondary schools.
   . Construction Project Manager Mike Marino noted construction on the MHS library is in progress, but should be wrapped up soon. He also said the new Warm Springs gym should be finished in three weeks to 30 days.
   . Under personnel, hirings were approved for: Steve Crane, as assistant girls basketball coach at JCMS, Amanda Gilbert as a contract substitute teacher at Madras Elementary for 80 days while teacher Kori Losoya is on leave, and for kindergarten teacher Cathy Downing, who will replace Jill Shreve at Westside Elementary.