28 November 2012 by Published in: Opinion No comments yet

School District Facts vs. Rumors

Editorial Comments

by Deborah Steele Hazen

“Rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth. ” - Will Rogers

Rumors are frustrating for a small town newspaper editor.

Why do we spend all this time going to long, tedious public meetings – usually attended by few others – and then spend hours writing articles about what our local school boards and city councils are really doing, if people just ignore the facts and believe what they read on facebook instead?

We do it because we believe it is very important that people know what their local government boards and councils are doing, and because we take very seriously the role of The Clatskanie Chief as the newspaper of record for the cities of Clatskanie and Rainier, the Clatskanie and Rainier school districts, the Clatskanie Rural Fire Protection District, and other local taxing districts.

If a merger between the Clatskanie and Rainier school districts were being seriously considered, it would be the subject of major front page headlines in this newspaper.

That question – “is the ultimate goal to combine school districts?” – was the first question asked at a community forum called by Clatskanie Middle/High School (CMHS) principal Jeff Baughman last Tuesday, Nov. 20. Clearly, that was one of primary questions on the minds of many of the approximately 100 people who attended the meeting.

The answer is no.

And, we would emphasize more specifically, that it is neither the Rainier school board’s nor the Rainier superintendent’s goal to take over Clatskanie schools.

Frankly, we are sickened by the rumor-mongering and the slander which has targeted Michael Carter, Rainier’s very capable superintendent.

We would guess that the “Rainier is trying to take over Clatskanie” nonsense got started – as many rumors do – with the twisting of one actual fact.

In February of 2011, shortly after former Clatskanie School District superintendent Ed Serra’s retirement announcement, four of the five then members of the Clatskanie school board agreed to explore the feasibility of sharing a superintendent with Rainier as a cost-saving measure.

After being asked by Clatskanie school board members if he would consider it, Carter consulted the Rainier school board. They did consider it for a few days, then the Rainier board and superintendent informed the Clatskanie school board that they were not interested in pursuing the idea because they were concerned about the negative comments of one  Clatskanie school board member, and in the Rainier board and superintendent’s judgment the Clatskanie community would not accept the idea of sharing a superintendent. Based on this latest round of rumor-mongering they apparently were right.

So, that was it. That was the end of the idea. Rainier was never trying to take over Clatskanie.

All of this was reported on the front page of a couple of different editions of this newspaper in February of 2011. There has been continuing coverage of the effort to establish a “sharing” program under which students could take certain courses at the other school.

“A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way. 

                         - John Tudor

Last week’s community forum was supposed to be about the sharing program under which Clatskanie and Rainier high school students may go to the opposite school for two periods a day. The purpose of the program is to offer a wider range of elective classes – both advanced and vocational – to students of both districts. At the beginning of the meeting, Baughman explained that just since 2006, the CMHS staff has decreased by between five and eight teachers. The total number of classes, based on fewer teachers teaching six periods per day, has been reduced from over 90 to about 60.

To compensate for this, CMHS is offering online courses, dual enrollment programs with community colleges and the sharing program with Rainier which is in its second year, but hasn’t been working well, primarily because of problems with transportation and scheduling.

A joint committee of school board members from Clatskanie and Rainier recently wrote a “directive,” subsequently adopted by the separate boards, instructing the superintendents from both districts to work with their administrative teams and staff to find a way to make it work better. The respective superintendents have been asked to report back to their boards with a workable plan by February.

The entire directive, along with a lengthy statement on the problems with sharing from the teachers’ union, and a statement from the school board that it is “open to exploring every possibility that has the potential to result in a rich and rigorous educational experience for our students,” were printed in full in the Oct. 25th issue of this newspaper. The article containing those statements is on The Chief’s website under the archives for that edition.

While he is working with the Rainier administration on the sharing program, Baughman called last week’s meeting in an attempt to hear parents’, students’ and the community’s concerns about the program, to inform them about the reasons behind it, and to listen to suggestions they might have.

As it turned out, rumor control took up quite a bit of the meeting – including a statement from Clatskanie superintendent Mary Mitchell that if she was being replaced by Carter (as rumor had it), it was news to her, and a statement by Carter that as much as he likes Clatskanie, he loves Rainier more, and he wouldn’t become superintendent of Clatskanie or a combined Clatskanie/Rainier district “if you paid me twice as much.”

“I don’t want to take over your district,” Carter stated emphatically. “I want to work with your district.”

Is that clear now?

“Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell.” - Shana Alexander

While it is clear that the sharing program is not yet working satisfactorily, there was quite a bit of support for the idea of giving students the opportunities for more electives expressed at the meeting.

As reported in more detail in the news story that begins on the front page of this issue, many of those in attendance seemed most upset about the recent announcement – via the school district’s automated phone system and a note sent home with students – that beginning Monday, Nov. 26, the Clatskanie school buses would run 15 minutes earlier so that the 22 students going to Rainier for morning classes could get there on time. That decision was made by Mitchell without consultation with the school board.

And, that brings us to some comments that were made at last week’s meeting regarding the perceived need for more “democracy” in the way the school district is run.

The school district is run in accordance with the principles of a representational democracy or a republic – as in other levels of government in the United States of America.

Clatskanie has a five member school board (Rainier’s school board has seven members). Clatskanie’s school board members are elected on an at-large basis for four year terms. As specified by state law, school board elections are held in the spring of odd-numbered years.

The terms of two current board members, Karen George and Janet Willey, expire next spring. The terms of the other three, Megan Evenson, Monty Akin and Michael Moravec, expire in 2015.

Any registered voters who live within the boundaries of the school district may run for the school board.

The Clatskanie school board regularly meets on the fourth Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in room 107 at CMHS. The Rainier school board meets on the second Monday of the month at 7 p.m. in the district office board room. School board meetings are open to the public, and there is time set aside for public comments. Occasionally meetings are rescheduled because of holidays, etc. For instance, December’s meeting of the Clatskanie board is set for Dec. 17.

All meetings of both the Clatskanie and Rainier school board are announced the week before in the legal notices of this newspaper, in the community calendar, and frequently also in news articles. The legal notices and community calendar and most news stories about the two school boards are posted online at www.clatskanie chiefnews.com.

The school board meetings and members and their contact information is also available on each district’s website, www.csd.k12.or.us/ for Clatskanie and www.rainier.k12.or.us/ for Rainier.

In accordance with how our system of government works at other levels, the school boards set policy and hires and oversees the superintendent, who is then responsible for carrying out the policies set by the board, hiring other personnel, assembling the budget, running the district on a day-to-day basis, etc.

If you have a concern or a complaint the proper chain of command is – depending on the exact circumstances – to take it first to the teacher, or straight to the principal or special education director, then to the superintendent, and, finally, if a satisfactory resolution is not reached, to the school board.

But, the school board members are the public’s representatives and concerned members of the public have every right to talk to them in or out of meetings. That is why their contact information is listed on the district’s website at http://www.csd.k12.or.us, click on school board members. The numbers of Clatskanie school board members are also all listed in the phone book.

The school board is a completely volunteer position – they receive no compensation whatsoever, but they donate a great deal of time, and receive a lot of headaches.

While they were not consulted about last week’s meeting or specifically invited to it, three of them were there. One of those who wasn’t there had another previously-scheduled commitment and the other one was caring for an injured family member. The Clatskanie school board was also not consulted about the change in the time of bus runs.

Nevertheless, Clatskanie school board chair Megan Evenson did a good job of answering some of the questions at last week’s meeting. She clearly stated that the board was not taking steps towards consolidation with Rainier. She reiterated that the purpose of sharing was to increase the opportunities for students.

Evenson pointed out that with the combination of more state mandates, higher personnel-related costs (including a $400,000 increase in Public Employee Retirement System costs for next year), fewer students bringing in less per student funding from the state, and state funding not expected to rise significantly, the district is continuing to struggle financially.

She mentioned what has been concerning those who have been paying attention to the signals coming out from the Department of Education, the governor’s new education “czar,” the Oregon School Boards Association, the Northwest Regional Education Service District, and others in Oregon’s educational hierarchy. That concern is that the state is not particularly interested in what folks at last week’s meeting described as the “different cultures” of the Clatskanie and Rainier school districts. The state is interested in test results, student opportunities and financial accountability.

Evenson told the crowd precisely what we have heard at school board meetings several times – that it is possible that the state might start forcing small, neighboring districts to consolidate, and that a successful sharing program would delay – not hasten – a consolidation that no one wants if we can avoid it and still offer our children a quality education.

The Clatskanie school board chair also said something that we found very sad and frustrating, and which brings us back to the starting point of this column.

Despite all of the false rumors and speculations that she had read recently on facebook, not one person – “zero” – had called Evenson, the democratically-elected school board chair, to ask her about their questions and concerns.

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