JANUARY 28, 2010

Approximately 70 people attended the School Board meeting Monday night at Peck Elementary School discussing the future of Joint School District #171’s budgetary cuts, and the possible closing of Peck and Cavendish schools.

Orofino Junior High closure date undecided

By Alannah Allbrett

    Approximately 70 people packed the elementary school in Peck during Monday night's school board meeting to bring their concerns and ideas before the Board. Joint School District No. 171 is slated to lose $137,000 in state funding for the district – according to what the legislature decides, and the closure of Orofino Junior High School is very likely to happen, though no specific date has been set.

   When the junior high is closed, students in grades seven through 12 will be housed at Orofino High School. Plans for additional classrooms being built at Orofino and Timberline High Schools are being evaluated. The addition of new multipurpose, practice gyms, at both schools would be needed. “A bus loading safety zone and remodeling of the kitchen is needed at Orofino Elementary School,” said Superintendent, Dale Durkee. A work group will begin to evaluate the building plans.

   Property below Orofino High School would be sold and subdivided into two lots, with employees working there relocated as space becomes available, said Durkee.

   Dates for these actions have not yet been determined. "We've notified staff we're limiting purchase of supplies and equipment, field trips and travel for professional training," Durkee said.

   Low enrollment numbers in Peck and Cavendish brings the possibility of closures of those two schools. Schools in more populated areas, such as Ada County are appropriated funds using the same formula as Clearwater County – according to enrollment numbers. But they have the population to sustain the schools. While Peck Elementary is technically in Nez Perce County, it makes up part of District 171. January, 2010, enrollment for Peck was 19 students, and for Cavendish it was 16 students.

   During his State of the State address, Jan.11, Governor C.L. (Butch) Otter recommended a $130 million reduction in the public school budget (FY2011) by the end of the legislative session – perhaps by April. With decreased enrollment, this district expects to lose 2.5 to 3.0 units of funding – 10 to 13% of funding for next year’s programs.

   The Board listened to comments from attendees which were all pretty much in agreement – “save the schools.” Parents and business people offered their labor and services. It was suggested the District’s web site be enhanced to form a blog, raising awareness of the situation, taking suggestions, and to have a place where people may enter their ideas.

   It also was suggested that the Board take a look at the “whole” school district, not just the small schools and to map out a five year plan rather than take a short sighted approach to this year’s crunch.

   Cary Newman, a resident of Cavendish said that he attended the recent Plus Five workshops, which was a brainstorming group looking at all possible aspects for the District’s next five years. He stated that since 85% of the District’s budget is for salaries and staff, those attending the workshop (mostly employees) had jobs at stake. He recommended that the Board, in making their recommendations for future cuts, take that into consideration that the Plus Five group did not necessarily represent the whole community. He said what it generated was more of an “in house” input and said the community should be polled to get the whole picture.

   Transportation costs need to be factored in for bussing children to other areas as well as maintenance costs of closed schools would still continue. It was suggested that the Board do some contingency planning based on possibly different amounts of budgetary cuts, so that plans would be in place no matter what the state decides to fund. It was said there should be “no sacred cows” to consider on the cut list.

   The one room schoolhouse in Cavendish was said to be a “great model of a small group” where teachers can teach up to 25 students successfully, and students learn to help those younger than themselves.

   Parents have said that only 1 out of the 16 students would go to Orofino schools should a closure occur in Cavendish. The other children would all attend in Lapwai, Lewiston, Kendrick, Juliaetta, or be home schooled. Therefore, monies originally allocated for those students would be lost permanently from this district.

   People from Peck said they chose to live there. John Walz, of Wilderness Log Furniture said, “I do with less to have more.”  One man said that we can’t count on the State of Idaho to bail us out of this situation; we have to vote with our wallets.

   Board Chairman, Don Ebert said that they already operate the schools in a frugal and efficient way. An override levy would need to be passed to cover the budgetary shortfalls. It was stressed that the amount, per $100,000, in a tax levy is relatively small when compared to costs of having an undereducated populace later on down the road. Exact figures homeowners would have to pay will be provided later.

. You need to put effort, Chairman Ebert said, “Although we run a lean, efficient school district, we’re going to do serious damage if we keep cutting further.” He said, “If, God forbid, the override levy doesn’t pass, then we’re in real trouble.”

   He emphasized the Board does not take any actions without careful deliberation. “We will get through this,” he said, “We have no choice but to be fine. We can’t panic; we have to do the best we can for the schools. It is an unfortunate situation, but it is, as it is,” he said. He stressed that, “We have a lot of good people working for us.” The Board will continue to take comments under advisement.