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Parents demand music, P.E. in elementary schools


At a packed Budget Committee Meeting and School Board Meeting in the Estacada High School choir room on Wednesday, May 8, district patrons delivered a message loud and clear: Keep music and physical education in the elementary schools.

At the Budget Committee Workshop on April 10, the principals of Estacada schools unveiled building-specific proposals for program cuts aimed at bringing the district closer to the drastically reduced projected budget for the fiscal year 2013-14.

With those proposed cuts, both elementary schools stood to lose music and physical education teaching positions.

While it is the role of the Budget Committee to vote on a budget ceiling, public comment at the May 8 meeting was largely devoted to the demand to keep these teaching positions.

Comment on the desire to preserve music and P.E. in the elementary schools drew loud applause.

During public comment, Nicole Adamson passed out a list of concerns, suggestions and questions to the School Board signed by 50 parents.

Adamson, who has a student in the Specialized Learning Center at Eagle Creek Elementary School and a fourth-grader at Clackamas River Elementary, explained that earlier in the week a group of parents from Clackamas River and Eagle Creek had met for a brainstorming session and came up with the list.

In a later interview, Adamson said the parents had put out fliers for the brainstorming meeting. The group voted for their top suggestions, concerns and questions. These were presented to the board.

“We don’t know how to get our voice heard effectively,” Adamson said.

She explained that attending Budget Committee and School Board Meetings is difficult for some parents, as they tend to run late.

One of the parents who attended the brainstorming meeting agreed to provide childcare on Wednesday, May 8, so that the rest of the group could attend the joint Budget Committee/School Board meeting.

The group’s concerns included retaining music, P.E. and library services. The group also asked that the district disclose the Central Office administrative salaries, and that the district only cut programs and services that “do not impact students.”

The group also sent a message: “Taking away so much from the students (P.E., music and library) is making it harder to keep them feeling good about school.”

Closing Eagle Creek and moving students to River Mill — in order to avoid blended classrooms — was among their suggestions. The group also suggested that the district opt out of replacing retiring Superintendent Howard Fetz, in favor of reallocating their salary to fund music, P.E. and library.

The group also recommended the district should install a long-term (three to five year) budget plan, explanations and transparency for budget cuts and the redirection of some Central Office administration staff duties to other personnel in the schools.

The group also raised numerous questions:

-Why does the district need a superintendent?

-Why are a retired superintendent and assistant superintendent paid during a budget crisis?

- What savings resulted from closure of River Mill Elementary?

- Does the district have a grant writer?

- Does the district have established maximum class sizes?

- What is the focus on hybrid and charter schools when the “bricks and mortar” schools are experiencing so many difficulties?

- Why is Eagle Creek Elementary the only school with blended classrooms?

Budget Committee purpose

Estacada School District Business Manager Donna Cancio reminded the audience that, “What the Budget Committee approves is the limit you can spend. What you’re talking about doesn’t necessarily have to happen before you approve the budget. These questions can continue through the year.”

Adamson responded that, “We don’t feel we have a voice.”

School Board Chairman Mark Greene promised to respond to the parents questions but wasn’t yet sure in what format to provide the responses.

The Budget Committee decided to postpone the vote until Friday, May 10. The board provided its responses to the parents’ list at that meeting.

The board also sent the Estacada News its responses, and that reply appears in its entirety on Page 4 of today’s edition.

In a later interview, Greene explained that the board heard the parents’ concerns loud and clear and was looking at ways to keep the music and P.E. teaching positions in the elementary schools as long as there are the funds.

“They were the first two things we were going to add back if we could add back anything,” he said.

He explained that keeping these positions depends on the May adjustment for state funding being larger than had been budgeted. He also said the district is waiting learn of the outcome of reductions in the Public Employees Retirement System.

He reiterated that the budget committee is not voting on whether or not to keep these positions.

In the School Board and district’s response to the parents’ list they state, “Measure 5 removed ‘local control’ in the early 1990s. Since Measure 5 was implemented, each Oregon school district has been required to send property tax proceeds to Salem for redistribution to all Oregon school districts based on enrollment.”

Greene explained that while the budget committee used to vote on a tax levy, there now is not much of a functional reason for a budget committee other than that having one is required by law.

Now most of the district’s funding comes from the state, but a budget must be drawn up before the district knows the exact sum it will be allocated.

“The budget committee is really a formality,” Greene said.

They vote to approve the projected budget ceiling follows extensive research by the district business manager.

The school principals were asked to propose cuts specific to their buildings to get the district within the projected budget.

Greene illustrated the process with this simplified equation: Say that in the fiscal year 2012-13 the Estacada School District made $100 and spent $100. No money would be available to carry over into the following year.

Then, forecasts showed the school district would bring in only $80, but that keeping all of the services used last year would cost $120 in the fiscal year 2013-14.

Based on these projections, the district would have to figure out how to cut $40 out of its budget.

The district then asks the principals to propose cuts to their buildings (as they know the needs of their specific schools) in order to bring the district within the $80 they expect to have.

In this scenario, the budget committee is voting to approve the $80 as the budget ceiling.

“We have a better than 50/50 guess (for how much money will be allocated to the district), but we really don’t know until we start getting it,” Greene said.

After the budget ceiling is voted on, the budget may still be adjusted.

At the budget committee meeting on Friday, May 10, the School Board acknowledged that music and P.E. teaching positions at the elementary schools would be the first thing to be reinstated if funds allow.

Adamson was heartened to hear that this was a top priority for the board.

“Great! Our voice is being heard!” she said.

“I was happy to hear the board, specifically Mark Greene, say that reinstating music and P.E., especially at the elementary level, would be a top priority,” said Heather Mills, one of the parents who contributed to the list of concerns, suggestions and comments.

Mills teaches fourth grade at Clackamas River Elementary and has a first-grader and incoming kindergartner there.

There were not enough board members at the May 10 meeting for a quorum, so the vote on the budget ceiling was postponed until a meeting on Monday, May 13, where the committee approved the proposed general fund budget of $22,014.850. The district’s total budget, when adding up all funds, is $30,920,968.