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97J budget leaves room for new programs

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 17th, 2007

The school board also made a decision on Teen Theater assemblies at their meeting last week.

Fully funded textbooks for the upcoming school year is one highlight of new budget recommendations reviewed by the Siuslaw School District Board of Directors at their regular meeting last week.

Co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, who have the most direct control over the state’s budget, recommended spending $200 million more on public schools than the amount proposed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The $6.245 billion for K-12 provides local districts with a little more wiggle room when it comes to next year’s finances, reported business manager Phil Scrima. While increasing the money for K-12, however, the budget co-chairs recommended less operating dollars for community colleges.

In a budget that’s always malleable, Scrima said that present recommendations indicate that 97J has sufficient funds to fully fund textbooks as well as a few other enhancements. These include the following:

• An increase for elementary physical education

• An increase for the School Resource Officer

• A half-time Talented and Gifted (TAG) coordinator

• A half-time middle school woodshop program

“It’s absolutely fantastic for the district because we don’t have to go through the major reductions of recent years or lose personnel,” said Scrima. “This will allow us to stabilize and restock the shelves.”

Last week’s meeting presented the prepared budget to school board members. May 9 is the next budget meeting, when the budget committee will confer, ask questions and take another look at the budget as it goes through the approval process.

The recommendations from the budget co-chairs are in initial stages in the state legislative process, which, like the local process, is always fluid, said Scrima.

“We can maintain class size and enhance programs. For the past six years that I’m aware of we've been trying so hard to keep programs. For us this is a positive change,” said superintendent Gerald Hamilton.

But school board member Tom Hunt warned that the budget windfall wasn’t a total fix to some ongoing school funding issues. He said classroom size was still higher than it had been in the past, for example.

“I’d hate to give the impression that we’re at the same place we were at a few years ago, before we had to make reductions,” said Hunt.

Teen Theater

The school board also announced its policy on a request for an in-school assembly featuring Teen Theater, a traveling production sponsored by Planned Parenthood that presents teen issues such as bullying and sex education.

Diane McCalmont, who has a middle-school-aged daughter, said she had seen the Teen Theater production in October, when it came to Florence. Teenagers acted in and contributed to the scripts, which introduced healthy sexuality as well as a variety of other topics relevant to teens.

“By example, we inspire audiences to voice their own concerns, fears, and opinions,” according to the production’s Web site.

“I was really impressed by the performance,” said McCalmont.

So McCalmont talked with school officials, including middle school principal Nancy Larson, about the possibility of bringing the presentation into the schools as an assembly. She also drafted a letter to the school board making a formal request.

When it came to Florence in October, the performance was held in the evening and McCalmont said about five kids were in the audience. But the largely adult audience that was present reacted positively to the performance, said McCalmont. There were several letters to the editor of the Siuslaw News responding positively as well, but expressing disappointment that it was not held at a more family-friendly hour.

Nancy Rickard, a member of the local group Action for Women’s Lives and former school board member, also wanted to see Teen Theater held as an assembly.

“Kids are at a greater risk because because of these funny thoughts we have about sex,” said Rickard.

She said Teen Theater provided sensitive yet necessary information on a peer to peer basis that wasn’t always available in the school district.

But school officials disagreed with the idea of pulling students out of class for an assembly that was not presented by school staff or students. Hamilton said the district received many requests for assemblies throughout the year and they had to use their judgement on which to respond.

“Schools have a number one responsibility to protect students’ class time,” Hamilton told the Siuslaw News. “We want to provide assemblies for students that wouldn’t cause them to be out of class collectively. We have an inability to provide assembly time for everyone who wants an assembly.”

He said the district’s health curriculum was based on state standards.

“Health curriculum is always filtered through age-appropriateness as the standards are written. It’s a sound curriculum,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton said he had viewed a DVD with selections from the production provided to him.

Hamilton added that the school district had a policy already that the board does not usually approve assembly requests, and had policies in place regarding controversial issues. He said the district was open to working with interested parents to schedule appropriate times for the presentation.

Parents present at last week’s school board meeting were disappointed with the outcome.

“It really bothers me that we have to live with this conservative viewpoint,” said Rickard.

“Part of the reason is that Planned Parenthood has a grant that will cover all costs if the presentation is held as an assembly, but otherwise someone else has to pay for them to come,” added McCalmont. “It’s a wonderful educational opportunity our schools have for free.”

McCalmont and Rickard said it’s too early to know what they are going to do next, but they said that there are plans in place for Teen Theater to come to Florence next year as well.

More information on Teen Theater can be found at their Web site, http://www.pphsso.org/education/teentheater.htm.

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