TONASKET – Tonasket School Board members said they had never received as much feedback on an issue as they had over the potential elimination of the family consumer science vocational program at Tonasket High School.
For the second consecutive school board meeting, the board room was filled with parents, students, staff and community members defending the value of the program and asking that a way be found to avoid cutting it in lieu of expanding the agricultural science program.
Superintendent Paul Turner and high school principal Jeff Hardesty had approached the board about making the change, citing dwindling numbers in the family consumer science program, a backlog of interest in FFA and agricultural biology, and the need for greater flexibility in the schedule that the expanded ag program could provide. That, in turn, was part of a response to a mandate given by the board in February that the administrators seek creative ways to get the district back to a full school day (40 minutes longer than it has been for about 15 years) while dealing with fewer resources than had been anticipated when a two-year plan to lengthen the day was originally put into place.
The meeting opened with a public hearing at which about 10 people spoke about the positive effects the program has had on the lives of students and their families.
That, along an equal number of speakers at the previous meeting, dozens of emails and personal contacts with school board members advocating for the program, had the board unwilling to make the change at this time, particularly on such short notice.
No motion to make a change was made, and it’s likely that any final decision won’t be made in time to make any changes for the 2013-14 school year.
Each of the board members expressed their unwillingness to make the decision at this time.
“People have come up with some very good ideas that maybe we need to explore before we decide to cut the program,” said Lloyd Caton. “I’m not sure that we’ve done enough work on our end to be able to make a decision. Some of these schedule changes and alternative routes need to be examined.
“I have not made up my mind. It’s important to the students, but the dollars and cents I understand as well…. But if we don’t have this program, where are the students going to get what they need?”
“I’m nowhere near ready to vote,” said Ty Olson. “I have lots of questions. Budget questions. Cause and effect questions. A lot to be asked.”
“I’m not ready either,” said Ernesto Cerillo.
“I was excited that so many people expressed their opinions,” said Catherine Stangland. “Usually getting a couple of letters is significant, but we got about 40 or so…. I’m also not ready to vote. And if that means we take our time to go over this over the next year, then I think we need to do that.”
Turner asked for direction.
“I’m not willing to be forced into a decision just to get it done,” Stangland said.
“I think the board will be more comfortable with it depending on the alternatives that are explored,” said board chairman Jerry Asmussen. “There’s been a lot of other things outlined.”
“So do we put this off for a year? I that’s where we want to go, that’s fine, I just want some direction.”
Olson suggested a work session to explore the questions and alternative suggestions made.
“So many of the decisions we are asked to make are difficult, and we don’t get a lot of feedback,” Olson said. “So hearing from you guys is great; there are many things that need public attention.”
“Maybe it could be not only saved, but enhanced,” Caton said.
“I’m going to take that directive, basically delay it and keep it on the burner,” Turner said. “We need to address doing some things to make it robust, look more at getting those numbers up.”
“At the work session, one thing we need to look at is these numbers,” Olson said. “This was your recommendation because the numbers were down. So, why are they down? We can’t make this decision unless we further understand why this trend is here.”
Sequestration, enrollment to hit budget
Across-the-board federal cuts to school funding will trickle down to local school districts as well.
Turner said that Tonasket will take at hit of somewhere between five and 15 percent to its Title funding, which means somewhere between $70,000 and $200,000.
“It’s the federal government’s way of saving cuts and saving their behinds by not having to vote on it,” Turner said. “That’s my opinion, anyway. At any rate, they made the cuts. So there’s another cut coming our way, and it’s coming from our federal school grants.”
That cut will go into effect for the 2013-14 school year.
Stangland said she had been told at a recent conference that those cuts were likely to be permanent.
Additionally, March enrollment numbers were down, which will necessitate further reducing next year’s projected budget.
“We’re looking at possibly reducing our budget by about 10 kids,” Turner said. “It’s down this year from where we were at the beginning of the year, and we’re anticipating lower yet in the fall.”
This year’s budget was based upon a projected enrollment of 1,040 students but had been near 1,070 at the beginning of the year. The March enrollment number came in at just under 1042.
Also, state funding issues have not been put to rest despite last year’s court ruling that mandated full funding of K-12 education.
“The good news is there was no downward turn in forecast state revenues,” Turner said. “The way it’s going they probably won’t have the budget finalized until June, so again we’ll be stuck trying to figuire out our budget without knowing what’s coming from the state.”
Stangland said that it was key that community members express to their legislators their opinions on state education funding.
“They tend to listen to who they get the most feedback from,” she said. “Writing a couple of sentences, that’s something that will get read.”