Montclair parents, students show support of technology specialist

With its emphasis on maintaining and even building up programs and staff, Monday night’s early discussions for the Beaverton School District’s 2014-15 budget were considerably brighter and more upbeat compared to the slashing and shock that informed the economically battered process in the past few years.

While the district’s general fund is on the rise, staffing cuts are not entirely a thing of the past, however. Montclair, Greenway, Cedar Mill, West Tualatin View and McKay elementary schools will lose their technology specialist positions to accommodate additional physical education and music instruction teachers. Other schools will see a boost in the latter two positions while retaining their technology specialists.

Budget Committee members assured Montclair parents and students, about a dozen of whom spoke against eliminating admired technical specialist Joann Vazquez, that the process remains open to recommendations and possible changes. While making no promises the positions would be restored, Superintendent Jeff Rose conceded those in affected schools deserve more details about the process — a delicate recalibration of music, physical education and technology instructors based on school sizes.

“The impact of the music and P.E. (decisions) put those schools in a position that others are not in,” Rose explained after the two-and-a-half hour meeting at Sunset High School. “We want to make sure it’s all accurate, look at the options and bring it back to the committee.”

The nearly $40 million increase in this year’s proposed $386 million general fund budget from the 2013-14 allocation is intended to increase teaching positions, reduce class sizes, cover contractual requirements and make strategic investments. Last year’s local option levy provides funding for 207 teaching positions.

As part of the district’s equity mission, 2.5 full-time equivalent several guidance counselors were added to the lower-income level elementary schools. Some of them have only half-time counselors, however, with a total of 23.5 counselors at the 33 elementaries.

While appreciative of the additional counseling positions in the new budget, elementary school counselors expressed concern at the meeting that they’re still spread too thin.

As Greenway Elementary Counselor Bijoli Biswas observed, the district has restored only 75 of the counseling positions it had before drastic budget cuts two years ago.

Christine Purvis, a counselor at Hiteon and Oak Hills elementary schools called for an increase in positions. She’s concerned that only students’ most obvious problems get attention.

“We triage,” she said. “It probably makes sense (under the circumstances) to be in a response mode.”

One of about five who spoke Monday in support of counselors, Purvis asked for an increase of two full-time equivalent positions to allow elementary schools greater access to full-time counselors.

“Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish,” she said. “Early intervention can make a huge difference in students’ lives.”

Mike Fryer, speaking out against cuts in technology positions at Montclair and other elementaries, said the move goes against trends in the job market — the Beaverton community in particular.

“Cutting the technology program from Montclair Elementary is a mistake,” he said. “It does not reflect the best interests of the community, the students, local employers or even the stated priorities of our own School Board.

“Montclair Elementary was recently commended by the School Board for its ‘Technology Forward’ policies, only to be informed the next day that the board had cut funding for the entire program,” he added. “The decision seems contradictory to both the priorities and opinions of the School Board. It was a mistake and needs to be corrected.”

While Montclair parents and teachers — including Vazquez, whose position would be cut in the draft budget — spoke eloquently on the importance of technology instruction, it was students who generated the most enthusiastic applause.

Finn Rutis, a Montclair fourth-grader, credited his tech class with an award-winning documentary he made as a third-grader as well as his and his second-grade sister’s ability to code their own video games.

“Without skills that I learned in my tech class, the (documentary) movie never would have happened,” he said. “Without the tech class, our iPads and Lego WeDos, which were totally parent funded, will sit unsupported. This means no one to clean off the germs and grime, no one to make software updates, no one to encourage new ideas and learning. Technology is everywhere. I want myself and my fellow students to be ready and prepared for the world around us.”

Fellow Montclair fourth-grader Berin Everett, shared her classmate’s frustration.

“If you take it away from us now, (students) won’t know how to do Lego and 3-D design,” she said. “Why take it away from us when 28 other schools get (technology instruction)?

“Princesses and unicorns aren’t going to cut it for me anymore,” she added. “I need technology.”

School Board and community members on the Budget Committee requested further information about the technology cuts and the allocation of counselors across the district for the next budget meeting on Monday, May 5.

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