Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When will Oregon wake up and begin adequately investing in our future?

This evening I went to a very depressing community meeting at our beloved elementary school, where parents and a few teachers met with the principal to discuss the budget cuts being imposed across Portland Public Schools. Our school has to cut 1.7 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions. This means that the few enrichment options offered in the school now will be reduced much further, and class sizes will continue to grow. At 60 kids, Kieran's grade is one of the largest. This year, they have three third grade classrooms, but next year the grade will have only two classes with 30 kids each.

The school district mandates that the kids get two enrichment offerings per week, even though the funding is being cut. Federal mandates require PE, but that too will be cut (again--it was only added back in a few years ago).

The principal had found a way to retain 0.5 FTE (librarian) because of the money raised through the school foundation. She had to send "unassignment" letters to the half-time PE teacher and also "unassign" 0.5 FTE of our combination librarian/technology teacher, who our principal says is the best librarian she's ever worked with. She said that she's seen a true love of reading in our community that is unmatched in other schools, much of that because of our talented librarian and rich literacy programs such as "Battle of the Books" and the "Bookbaggers" overnight event.

Beyond that, she wanted the parents to let her know which meant the most to us:
  • Technology
  • Music
  • PE
How can we possibly choose among those three? I copped out, noting that I would support whichever option the staff felt was most important (even though my kids would most like music). The staff at our elementary school are simply phenomenal, and I trust them to choose which is best for the kids...not just my kids, but also the ones whose parents cannot afford to provide outside enrichment.

One of the third-grade teachers shared with me that she worked in a lower-income school that had to cut technology and the teachers were supposed to shoulder that themselves. Bottom line, that option fell away because the teachers did not know enough about maintaining the computers.

I think back to those long-ago days when I was in school. We didn't have technology classes in elementary school (I took my first computer class in junior high), but at Vose Elementary School in Beaverton, we had two PE teachers, two music teachers, and a full-time librarian, in addition to four moderately sized classes per grade. We were able to take violin in fourth grade and band starting in fifth grade, although I don't remember having a school choir. I'm sure that Vose had more total students than our smaller school does, but irregardless, that's a clear contrast to current staffing levels.

Kieran and Mom at one of Chris' school concerts,
back when they actually had concerts!
Even when Chris was in elementary school, they had library, technology, music, and P.E. Nicholas is starting kindergarten in the fall, and I feel so sad that he will not have the enrichment opportunities offered by trained specialists. More responsibility falls on our already-overloaded teachers to provide extra educational enrichment, and as parents, we must find a way to dig deep and cough up more contributions for our foundation if we hope to provide any enrichment opportunities at all.

The tax naysayers claim that they should not have to shoulder the burden for the education of other people's kids. What they don't realize and acknowledge is that these children are our future doctors, teachers, lawyers, firefighters, police officers, scientists, technologists, etc. When we have outstanding schools in our community and our state, it benefits the whole economy and the community.

Chris marching in a parade with the middle school band
As long as Oregon funds education in its continuing piecemeal fashion, we will keep chipping away at our educational foundation and jeapardizing our future. We can't cut any closer to the bone. It's dire and desperate, now.

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