Future: Uncertain

Students assess a future of budget cuts
by: Arwen Ungar STEEP TO CLIMB — Graduating senior Kaitlin McIntyre, seen here painting a mountain scene, said she is concerned future art students won’t have access to basic supplies.

As details of the new budget recommendations for local school districts emerge, students at South Columbia County's two high schools struggle with the potential changes.

Both districts are grappling with budget reductions - $1.28 million in Scappoose and $1.6 million in St. Helens - resulting in a slew of anticipated cuts, including layoffs, additional furlough days and the loss of athletic programs.

Though teachers, administrators and parents have voiced their concerns about the budget cuts and their potential effect on education, one group of stakeholders has perhaps the most investment in the budget breakdown: students.

And they have plenty to say about it.

At Scappoose High School, the most contentious issue for students is a plan to change the schedule from a trimester to semester system, which will result in a reduction of three classes per year.

For some juniors, changing those requirements may affect their ability to graduate.

'I hate that we're switching to semesters,' Scappoose junior Lina Liebe said. 'There's no room to make up classes. There's no wiggle room.'

Liebe might have a hard time meeting graduation requirements with the new schedule, she said.

'I kind of messed up my freshman year,' Liebe said. 'If I fail a class, I cannot graduate.'

She wanted to take additional classes next year to make up for her freshman year, but the reduction in class periods won't give her any spare time, she said.

Because of this, she'll have to take courses this summer and next, as well as try to find a job and earn work-study credit.

'That's extremely hard,' Liebe said. 'No one's hiring.'

Christine Mapes, another junior, said she's unlikely to fit some electives into her schedule with fewer classes.

But, like many students, she said she understands the district is faced with tough decisions including what courses to cut.

'We all understand, but they just decided,' Mapes said. 'I wish they could have had our input.'

Students are not only concerned about losing the available time to take electives. They are also taking exception to the specific courses that are facing cuts.

'The main thing I'm concerned about is senior English electives,' Mapes said. 'I've been waiting to take some classes since freshman year, and now I can't. That kind of sucks.'

Graduating senior Kaitlin McIntyre said taking art electives has given her the skills to be an artist and helped her get in touch with her creativity. Now, she's worried other students may end up missing similar opportunities.

'I am concerned that we won't even be able to expand from the basics and get the supplies we need,' McIntyre said.

Incoming senior class president Kyle Sallee said he'd hate to see any classes go, but the potential elimination of some specialty electives such as shop classes and drama give students knowledge and experiences they may not get anywhere else.

'We offer so many courses that could spark interest for students,' Sallee said. 'I see a potential spark for an interest go and that's devastating to me.'

Sallee said he's noticed budget cuts throughout the years at the high school, but said the change in schedule this year will likely have the most effect on students.

'This year has been dramatic,' Sallee said. 'We've noticed slight cuts every year, it seems like every year we get a little bit less.'

In St. Helens, where the projected budget gap will be $1.6 million, the concern among high school students is less pronounced than it is in Scappoose, but it exists nonetheless.

That's why a focus group of seniors regularly meets with Superintendent Patricia Adams to hash out student concerns.

For Will Lawrence, the high school's in-coming ASB president who sits in on these meetings, the main worries among students include growing class sizes and a constantly changing class schedule.

He took Advanced Placement History at the beginning of the year, and there were 40 students in the class.

The class was eventually split into two, Lawrence said. And for good reason: He and other students found it difficult to receive the attention required from their teacher in a class twice the size it should be.

Another issue is a class schedule that changes its format yearly, going from a block schedule, to a seven-period-a-day schedule, to a combination of the two. That makes it hard for students to acclimate to the rigors of high school, he said.

'It would be nice to have some sort of schedule consistency and class sizes are a big thing,' Lawrence said. 'It can get out of control. It's difficult for teachers and students to connect in a large classroom.'

Mark Davalos, next year's superintendent, has said he plans to address student and parent concerns to provide the best education possible for all district students.

Davalos said he wants to hear those concerns, though at present he has not outlined any specifics to deal with the pending cuts.

Sound off - Scappoose students consider the future of their education

Lina Liebe

'There's no room to make up classes. There's no wiggle room.'

Christine Mapes

'I think we're going to see a higher drop out rate and more skipping.'

Megan Gaylord

'No senior seminar advisory...it's going to be hard to not have as much time in school to prepare for that.'

Ashton Hamm

'I think it's stupid that we're stuck with the same classes for a longer time.'