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Music program in peril

Cuts would slash band and sports at elementary and middle schools
by: raymond rendleman Gardiner Middle School eighth grader Erin Busby practices trumpet almost every day, but the middle school after-school jazz band program is among those slated for cuts.

Eighth grader Erin Busby thinks she wouldn't have made it through middle school without her involvement in jazz band, and she now worries about her younger brother if the Oregon City School District eliminates financial support of after-school music and other activities.

Program cuts are part of the district's effort to bridge an expected $9.2 million budget gap for the next school year.

'All of my friends are in band or choir, and it gives me a sense of purpose and belonging,' said Busby, who has practiced trumpet almost every day at Gardiner Middle School since she moved to Oregon City from Southern California about two years ago.

Busby's mom Jennifer Pope said she made the move in large part due to the district's strong music programs; she's not sure whether her paycheck could withstand fee-for-service activities.

'This is a really huge part of her life, and there's a lot expected of the band members at the high school level,' Pope said.

The district is recommending $1.3 million in program cuts to close a budget gap this year, with the hope that the programs could eventually be restored. The district has scheduled a School Board work session at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 28, at 1306 12th St. to discuss the program cuts (see sidebar).

OCSD officials see a hope for sparing the music programs from cuts this year.

'Those music programs are probably at the top of my personal list to stave off from cuts,' said School Board Vice Chair Tim Frisius. 'But because we've cut so much in the last few years, no matter what we do, we'll be cutting into bone.'

The middle school band elective during the school day is not being considered for cuts, but proposals include several elementary music teachers in addition to the after-school jazz band noncredit activity. Other after-school activities housed in middle schools, even if they don't receive district funding directly, could be displaced by cuts to after-school buses and building supervision.

If voters don't pass a $2 million annual levy in May, the district would lose 10 additional student days over each of the next three years.

'These after-school cuts are particularly difficult to propose, because we've already cut all but the most popular middle school sports and activities,' said Larry Didway, the incoming superintendent.

Dance, wrestling and track are the only sports that the district still sponsors at the middle school level. Leaders from elementary, middle and high schools have been meeting to hash out budget cut possibilities; they each had to offer budget cuts meeting a theshhold that the distict calculated based on enrollment.

'The reason we used that technique is that we wanted to make sure they were losing the least possible amount of value to the education of each student,' Didway said.

Abby Sieler of NW Family Services argued that the district can't afford to cut any more after-school programs, especially at the middle schools.

'Cutting these programs cuts into that important time right after school when kids are most likely to get into trouble,' Sieler said.

The incoming superintendent acknowledged the difficulty in passing on the fees to families, but promised that the district would try to make the programs accessible, even to low-income students.

'Our own community education program would do its best to provide fee-for-service activities and after-school sports,' Didway said.

Although music and after-school activities could be spared in the current proposal, Didway warned that the $9.2 million figure 'is kind of a stab in the dark.' Depending on the final allocation from the state - currently budgeted at $5.6 billion - the district could have to add to the 20 employee furlough days, $3 million in additional contract concessions and $600,000 from ending fund balance currently proposed.

'If the floor fell out, the School Board would have to return to the idea of an elementary school building closure, along with the loss of additional positions, but we're really hopeful that we won't be going there,' Didway said.

Proposed cuts at OC Schools

The district is asking the School Board to authorize $1 million in cuts out of the following $1.3 million in suggestions:

Oregon City High School:

• Reduction in athletics and activities (11 percent): $51,100

• One fewer campus security guard: $43,900

• One fewer clerical staff member: $53,000

Gardiner and Ogden middle schools:

• Elimination of athletics and activities: $74,700

• Elimination of Summer School: $26,700

Elementary schools

• Elimination of music program (3.2 FTE): $240,000

• One fewer school librarian: $46,400

• One fewer instructional assistant: $43,000

• Partial cut of secretary (0.58 FTE): $29,600

Districtwide:

• Several other teachers at various levels (3.83 FTE): $292,500

• Reductions in building supply allocations: $217,300

• Reduction in custodial staff (1.75 FTE): $90,000

• Restructuring of courier services (0.5 FTE): $33,000

• Restructuring of TAG and OCAP administration (0.25 FTE): $30,000

• Reduction in maintenance allocations: $15,000

• Reduction in IMC hours (0.25 FTE): $12,000

• Reduction in TAG stipends: $3,000

OCHS recognized for advanced achievement

Last week the Oregon City School District became one of two districts in Oregon, and one of 388 school districts in the nation to be honored by the College Board with a place on the AP Achievement List.

From 2008 to 2010, its high school has increased the number of students participating in AP from 179 to 272, while improving the percentage of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher, the score typically needed to earn college credit, from 70 percent in 2008 to 84 percent in 2010.

'Oregon City High School is thrilled to qualify for the AP Honor Roll,' said Principal Nancy Bush-Lange. 'It is our goal to encourage all students to take at least one AP class, in a subject area of their choice, during their high school career.'

The program enables students to pursue college-level studies while still in high school. Taking AP courses also demonstrates to college admission officers that students have selected the most rigorous curriculum available to them to insure academic preparedness for college level studies.

'These districts are defying expectations by expanding access while improving scores,' said College Board President Gaston Caperton. 'They are experimenting with initiatives and strategies that have driven increases in average exam scores when making AP available to a much broader and more diverse student population.'

Selection for the AP Achievement Award is based on:

• An examination of three years of AP data from 2008 to 2010.

• Increase in participation in/access to AP by at least 4 percent in large districts, 7 percent in medium districts and at least 11 percent in small districts.

• A steady or increasing percentage of exams taken by African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native students; and

• Performance levels maintained or improved when comparing the percentage of exams in 2010 scoring a three or higher to those in 2008, or the school has already attained a performance level in which more than 70 percent of the AP students are scoring a three or higher.