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MARCH 11, 2010

Orofino Junior High’s future remains undecided

   The future of Orofino Junior High School remains undecided following a split vote during a specially called Jt. School District 171 board meeting March 9.

   Board members John Schwartz, Alyce Arnsberg and Theresa Graber voted against a motion that current sixth grade students remain at Orofino Elementary School for the 2010-2011 school year, and current seventh and eighth grade students be taught at Orofino High School during the 2010-2011 school year.

   Board Chairman Don Ebert and member Amy Jared voted in favor of the motion.

   The board voted Jan. 25 of this year to house seventh through twelfth grades at Orofino High School, citing declining enrollment, the need for costly repairs at Orofino Junior High School, including removal of asbestos and equipment replacement, and the economic savings provided by the move.

   Public comment focused on delaying the move while more options are discussed. Concerns raised included fears that a proposed facilities bond levy will fail and the issue be “forgotten,” leaving the seventh and eighth grade students separated beyond the 2010-2011 school year.

   Orofino patrons urged the board to delay the changes while further information and input is sought. Several requested more information regarding the costs of using the junior high gym and bussing students between Orofino Elementary and Orofino High School. Superintendent Durkee provided those figures.

   Harv Nelson, a teacher at Timberline Schools, spoke in favor of the board’s decision of Jan. 25, to move students to OES and OHS, and discussed the vote three years ago to consolidate all schools on the hilltop. At that time, he stated, the patrons were told Orofino would “share the pain” of cutbacks. Several promises to Timberline schools have yet to be fulfilled, including a covered play area and more classrooms. Savings from cutbacks to OJHS might help make those things a reality, and cutting building usage in order to save staff is a wise decision, he stated.

   “We are faced with a financial challenge,” Durkee said, commending the board for making tough decisions, “but good ones.” 

   Budget cuts proposed by the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee include 4% for teachers and classified staff, 6.5% for administrators, and combining the line item budget for items such as textbooks with the discretionary fund for a 14% cut. In addition, a 10% cut to travel budgets is proposed.

   District 171 is implementing a number of cost savings measures gathered from staff. These, Durkee says, have saved the district thousands of dollars, but in the present financial situation, there is a need to look at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

   Aside from financial concerns, the proposed move would increase the number of electives available to sixth and eighth graders. OES Principal, Angie Baldus and OHS Principal Jerry Nelsen provided proposed schedules for the coming school year. 

   Technology Director, George Clark presented information on changes necessary to facilitate the move. Much of the required equipment is already on hand. Some electrical work would be required. No figures were available.

   Food Services Director Carmen Griffith said the move would result in $7500 savings in staffing and transportation. It will also eliminate the need for replacement of the 54 year old dishwasher and the warming unit at OJHS.

   Following public comment and presentations by staff, Chairman Ebert shared his thoughts on the move, stating his support for the Leadership Team. “I trust them, they are people who work for us and they are trusted.” He is in favor of the move he said: “We have to do what we have to do for the good of the kids.”

   Schwartz said he would like to “look at all the options” before a decision is made.

   Arnsberg agreed with Schwartz, stating her belief that “we haven’t looked at all options.” She voiced concerns that students would be moved into situations without adequate supervision and that other options for cuts be examined, such as closure of the programs office and limiting extracurricular activities.

   Graber voiced concerns that the building bond won’t pass and asked if there is “anywhere in the nation where seventh and eighth grades are split.”

   Jared, saying “We need to get this done,” stated her belief that students will adjust because we have a “great, great staff.”

   The meeting concluded with defeat of the motion. The next board meeting is March 15 at OHS at 7 p.m.