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Superintendent withdraws K/6th proposal for Buff


   The proposal to have Buff Elementary house kindergarteners and sixth-graders has been withdrawn, Superintendent Keith Johnson announced at a meeting of around 30 parents and teachers Jan. 13.
   Another option principals were exploring was to open Buff as a self-contained sixth grade school next year. Johnson said principals were meeting with parents of fifth graders to get their feelings on that idea.
   Teacher Margee O'Brien noted that wouldn't alleviate the overcrowding problems at Madras Elementary. "We wouldn't get any more staff, but would have less money to work with," she said.
   Right now Madras Elementary only has a half-time music teacher, P.E. teacher, and counselor, and a part-time speech teacher, O'Brien said. "If we open a completely new (K-5) school, we will have to share those (half-time people) with Buff," she told the group.
   Johnson said the amount of state school funds coming to 509-J won't be known until March 1, but districts are expecting reduced funding from the state.
   If Buff Elementary opened as a kindergarten through fifth grade school, with the same services as the other schools, Johnson said it would cost $500,000 to operate.
   A woman asked what it would cost just to leave Buff empty until student enrollment increases (and thus more state school funding) when the prison is built in Madras.
   "It would cost $40,000 to leave it empty, or for another $40,000 we could put all the sixth grades there. The benefit would be it would make two schools smaller and research shows students do better in smaller schools," Johnson said.
   Parent Kathy Sullivan had an idea that several others at the meeting liked.
   "Could Buff be opened as a kindergarten and first grade school for the first year, and then grow by one grade each year, so it wouldn't take as much finances to run it?" Sullivan asked.
   Johnson said that would be possible. "We could take all the kindergarteners and first graders within the (Buff) boundaries and send them there, and it would create a little bit of space at each school."
   "Why have Buff be a self-contained sixth grade?" one woman asked.
   "It's a lot cheaper to take all the sixth grade teachers and place them there, rather than open a whole new school," Johnson said, because those teachers already have support staff assigned to them (for P.E., music, etc.).
   "I can assure you we will operate next year with a balanced budget," Johnson said, noting they wouldn't operate a school that costs more than the budget allows.
   There were some objections to the sixth grade school idea. Teacher Sue Taylor noted, "All these years we've been working to improve our middle school and it is improving now. My fear is we are sabotaging that by taking the sixth graders out."
   Kathy Sullivan also mentioned self-contained sixth graders would miss opportunities they have at JCMS now, like playing in the band with seventh- and eighth-graders.
   Parent Amy DeChamplain said, "I cringe at the thought that we spent all that money to build (JCMS) and now might just empty that building out."
   Teryl Hair reminded the group, "This is all temporary (until the prison is built). That's why the kindergarten and first grade idea seems good to me."
   Parent John Wilcox agreed. "You get the most bang for your buck and then just keep going (adding grades as funding allows). Because the prison is coming. It's just been delayed."
   "We will look into the kindergarten-first grade idea," Johnson told the group.
   He said he hoped to get the issue resolved at the Jan. 24, school board meeting, but the decision would be up to the board.
   Parent Brad Holliday thanked administrators for deciding to drop the kindergarten-sixth grade combination for Buff. "I know it's been a tough decision for you, but I think the administration made the right decision," he said, adding, "Meetings like this are informative to parents as well as you and I'd encourage you to do more of them in the future."