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School budget passes 4-1

A move to recall three board members comes at end of meeting that began with protest
by: Chase Allgood Community members, including teacher’s union president Jeff Matsumoto, right, gathered for a protest Monday before Forest Grove School Board members voted 4-1 to adopt a controversial budget for 2011-12.

The Forest Grove School Board adopted a highly unpopular 2011-12 budget Monday, setting the stage for the possible recall of three of its members next fall.

By a 4-1 tally, board members passed a $49 million financial plan for next year that lays off dozens of teachers, cuts electives at every level and shutters the district's smallest grade school.

Parent Jason Giddings said Tuesday morning he and a group of 80 to 100 patrons were poised to begin recall proceedings against board members Anna Tavera-Weller, Alisa Hampton and Terry Howell.

Excluded as recall targets were Ralph Brown, who lost his seat to Gales Creek resident Kate Grandusky in the May 17 election, and Fred Marble, who was reelected but voted against the budget adoption.

'We've been talking about a recall for the last month, but the thing last night emboldened us,' said Giddings, of Gales Creek. 'These board members are not doing their job.

'People are really fired up right now.'

Lone vote

Marble cast the lone vote against the budget, which includes a controversial plan to close Gales Creek Elementary and move its tiny student population to Dilley Elementary, located south of the Forest Grove city limits.

'I have to say 'nay,'' Marble said, 'because I can't support any budget that closes Gales Creek.'

Marble then donned a red T-shirt that's come to signify solidarity with the community's most rural outpost during budget and board meetings this spring.

At least half of the 150 or so audience members walked out as soon as the board adopted the budget, which included an amendment put forth by Marble to save $10,000 by cutting two additional football coaches at Forest Grove High.

Two other amendments suggested by Marble - one to keep Gales Creek School open by negotiating a pair of unpaid furlough days with the district's teacher and classified unions and another to restore two library media technicians by cutting instructional assistants - couldn't gain traction.

Neither did pleas from patrons to hold off on the purchase of a half-million-dollar textbook curriculum to gird up reading scores at district elementary schools or attempts by members of the newly-formed Forest Grove School Citizens Advisory to get the board to rein in workshop classes at the high school.

The classes mostly serve to boost a student's ability to pass state-mandated tests.

'There's way too much test prep being done - it's narrowing the curriculum all across the country,' said parent Monica Gorman.

Philip Thias said that after years teaching art in the district, he can no longer recommend Forest Grove schools to others.

'We don't need all these workshop classes,' Thias said. 'We don't need all the test prep that will be happening at Neil Armstrong. What I'm looking for is the opportunity for my kids to become innovators.'

Howell took a stab at convincing his colleagues to use a small amount of budgetary wiggle room to lighten the district's workshop class load, but to no avail.

Spirit of Gales Creek

Before the vote to adopt the budget, Howell said he supported the closure of Gales Creek, which officials estimate will save $380,000 next year and help along $7.5 million in cuts proposed by Superintendent Yvonne Curtis this spring.

'I'm going to walk out through a sea of red and you're going to hate me,' Howell said. 'But your teachers, your kids, the whole spirit of Gales Creek will be alive at Dilley,' he said.

A disappointed Melinda Fischer of Gales Creek, whose son just finished his career at the 103-student school last week, said she planned to enroll him outside the district because of the pending closure.

'To make a statement against the district, we're pulling him out and making a new plan,' said Fischer, who added she'd be joining efforts to recall Hampton, Tavera-Weller and Howell.

'We've looked into it and we're taking steps,' she said.