PROGRESS REPORT: Budget cuts top concern for local schools

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By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer principals are preparing for what they expect to be a difficult transition into a period of drastic cutting.

“The difference is that up until now, the district has done everything they can to tighten their belt and it’s coming down it affecting the schools themselves,” said Colleen Johnson, principal of Claggett Creek Middle School.

Husk delivered Salem-Keizer’s budget message on Feb. 22 and said the district will lose about $23 million from its general fund. Preliminary looks have district officials eyeing cuts of between 250 to 400 teachers, up to 230 support staffers, and as many as 16 administrators and closing schools with fewer than 200 students. Community members will have the opportunity for input at meetings scheduled March 29 and April 26 at locations to be determined.

“We are committed to having as little negative impact on instruction, programs and jobs as possible,” said John Honey, McNary High School principal.

Throughout Keizer, and the school district general, officials are already looking for opportunities to adjust their budgets, but they’re trying to be realistic with teachers and parents.

“We need them to understand that things are going to change and we’re not going to be able to offer the things that we currently offer so we may be having more fundraisers for things we could cover through the regular budget,” said Laura Perez, Whiteaker Middle School principal.

The budget crisis arrives at a time when state standards are increasing despite elevated levels of student achievement. At Weddle Elementary School, student achieved some of their highest levels ever last year in Adequate Yearly Progress goals mandated by No Child Left Behind, but will need to do 10 percent better this year to continue on pace, said Samantha Ragaisis, Weddle pricinpal.

“We just can’t give up,” she said. “Money is coming off every year and the focus has to be on the children. People and students are going to be impacted, but if we keep focusing on that negative energy, it’s only going to breed more of it.”

At McNary, the focus for the coming year will be on this year’s juniors who must pass the state reading test as part of the new 2012 state graduation requirements, Honey said.

Claggett Creek was honored last year as the Celebrating Student Success Champion by the Oregon Department of Education for making significant progress in closing the achievement gap and helping minority and low income students succeed. This year they’ve been nominated for a follow-up award, Continuing Student Success.

Both Claggett and Weddle inhabit a role different from most of their counterparts within Keizer with many students coming from families living close to or below federal poverty levels.

“Teachers here have to dig a little bit harder and a little bit deeper for the success of their students,” Ragaisis said.

Ragaisis and Perez both credited the success of students throughout the district to the precise targeting of student needs.

“It’s about making sure we’re doing all that we can for students, especially those that struggling with content standards and making certain that we know where we are with every student and what it’s going to take to get them to the next level,” Perez said.

Databooks maintained on each student allows teachers to identify struggling students and develop curriculums that will help them and other students facing similar problems, Ragaisis said.

Moving forward, each of the principals contacted were grateful for the continued support of their communities and parents, but wanted to remind Keizer parents that there is always room for more involvement.

“As we deal with the budget crisis during the next couple of years, parental support, input and patience will be very important.  keeping an open and positive dialogue will go a long way in maintaining a positive environment at our schools,” Honey said. “While the story may read a little differently than in past years, the final chapter should essential be the same. Our students will complete high school and head off into the world, confident and prepared for whatever lies ahead.”

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