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School officials reflect on tragedies

by: Rick Swart, Kenneth Cox, superintendent for the Vernonia School District

Recent tragedies dominated the discussion at the January meeting of the Scappoose School Board.

Kenneth Cox, superintendent of Vernonia schools, expressed his gratitude to the school district and the city of Scappoose in a packed boardroom Monday night.

'I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for opening your doors to Vernonia,' said Cox. 'We do appreciate the sacrifice not just on the part of the high school staff but on the part of the whole community.'

Vernonia students have been attending school at Scappoose since floodwaters inundated their own facilities in early December. The Vernonia School District has since been working with the governor's office and Federal Emergency Management Administration to set up temporary modular classrooms, which Cox said should be ready by Jan. 29.

'What a great lesson for our kids,' Mike Judah, director of special services, said following Cox's remarks, a sentiment echoed by members of the

board.

'I'm just so proud to say it was my community that was doing this,' said board chairman Diane Kunkel.

'We're lucky to live in this great community,' added Michelle Graham, another member of the board.

Jim Hoag, who received a certificate for 26 years on the board, said Scappoose's efforts might have inspired other agencies and groups to pitch in and help Vernonia, which was swamped by more than 7 inches of rain the first weekend in December.

Board member Joe Lewis, who was unable to attend Monday's session, sent a letter commending the staff for its sensitivity in handling the Vernonia flooding situation and the tragic death of Taija Lyn Belwood, a SHS senior, who died Dec. 31 in a crash on Cornelius Pass Road.

'It makes you want to go hug your kids a little harder,' said board member Mark Parsons.

'It has never been a greater honor to be an educator,' summed Superintendent Paul Peterson.

In other business, Peterson presented an overview of construction excise taxing authority for school districts approved in the last session of the Oregon Legislature.

The legislation allows school districts to levy taxes on new construction within their jurisdictions at the rate of $1 per square foot for residential structures, 50 cents for commercial and 25 cents for industrial.

The proceeds of the tax may only be used for capital expenditures, and then only if the district has a long-range facilities plan in place. Scappoose is in the process of developing such a plan. A committee of school district representatives has been meeting for several months to address the district's capital needs. Their next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 24.

Peterson noted that the excise tax would generate about $175,000 a year if the current trend of 75 new homes annually continues.

'Most of the school districts that have considered this have adopted it,' Peterson said.