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Day: May 4, 2011

Drastic school library cuts protested

Photo submitted by Helen Shafran

Libraries were the main concern raised at Tuesday night’s hearing of the Salem-Keizer School District budget committee.

It was the second in a series of public meetings, all at Claggett Creek Middle School, on cuts the district administration has proposed to keep the district solvent for 2011-12. Other matters addressed by audience members were proposals to shut down three elementary schools and reduce bilingual programs.

Before the hearing started, many people stood outside the school building holding signs with messages such as:

*“Save our librarians.”

*“We love our librarians.”

*“Librarians change lives.”

*“Don’t eliminate my librarian.”

*“There will be consequences.”

Most of the 32 people who spoke from the audience focused on the proposal for a deep cut in library-media personnel for kindergarten through eighth grade.   However, the first speaker, Alan Bushong, representing Friends of Music, spoke against reducing music teachers. He urged centralizing music education and instituting a seven-period day for the middle schools.

Audience members supporting librarians included Margo Jensen, a retired library-media teacher, who said any reduction should be proportional rather than the proposed 91%. Teacher-librarians, she said, teach literacy and are key to managing information in the 21st century.

Jensen urged reducing K-8 librarians by 50%, assigning each remaining one to two schools and keeping libraries open longer.

“This should cut the deficit by at least $1.5 million,” she said.

Next to speak was Jim Scheppke, Oregon state librarian, who said, “Reading proficiency is the foundation of all learning.” He noted that last year, 34 percent of 10th-graders in the state could not pass the reading assessment test.

BJ Toewe, Salem public library administrator, told the committee that if the proposed librarian cuts were approved, public libraries would not have the capacity to pick up the slack.

Tina Lowen, a library-media teacher at Houck Middle School, agreed with Jensen’s idea of assigning one librarian to two schools. She noted that about one-third of Houck students never used the public library.

Two of the speakers from the audience were elementary school students. Anthony Booth, calling library one of his favorite subjects, asked how he would could learn informational technology if library services were cut. Estela Flores described her librarian as “wonderful” and said it was “really sad” that the committee would think of cutting the library staff.

Standing ovations followed the comments of both children.

Lloyd Chapman, who described himself as a volunteer, said, “I’m not here to argue for any particular program,” but urged keeping personnel “who have a direct impact on students.”

It would be better, he said, to cut 10 percent from the $2 million for technology, reduce the program for improvement in construction by about $5 million, cut travel expenses by an unspecified amount, and see what grant possibilities exist.

Ann Rolufs, a library media assistant, said cuts in library funding would be bad for at-risk students, who do not know how to use libraries.

Several audience members spoke against planned closure of two elementary schools, Bethel and Fruitland. Closure of Lake Labish Elementary School is also proposed, but no one in the audience mentioned it.

Jeff Pearce urged, as alternatives to closure, sharing principals, outsourcing services and eliminating the last three days of the current school year.

Adam Kuenzi said the committee should consider costs per student at the targeted schools and let them stay open one more year to see how they work out.

Speakers for keeping English as a second language programs in place included Jaime Arredondo, who said they helped him greatly when he was a student in the district. He singled out as one of his best teachers Aurora Cedillo, who also took the microphone, representing the Salem-Keizer Coalition.

The next public hearing on the budget was held the following night after press time.

Stability, communication at heart of MCFD election

Of the Keizertimes

The four candidates vying for two seats on Marion County Fire District No. 1 board agree that the largest issue at stake is the future stability of the district itself.

In the election, incumbents Randy Franke (Position 2) and Orville Downer (Position 1) face challenges from Bob Palmer and Andrea Batchelor, respectively. Ballots in the election, which will go out next week, need to be returned by Election Day, May 17.

The contentious races come amid personnel disputes involving Chief J. Kevin Henson and the district’s unions of career and volunteer firefighters as well as outside threats from neighboring fire districts and departments that continue to shrink its tax base.

To combat the latter, MCFD1 and Turner Rural Fire District joined forces to create the Willamette Valley Fire and Rescue Authority, an umbrella organization that, as it continues to develop, hopes to partner with other districts to share training and financial services and cut down on overhead in a time of universally-collapsing budgets.

“We have a reasonably good start, but our internal issues have diverted our attention and we’ve not been able to put as much attention to WVFRA,” Franke said. “We need to resolve those so we’re in a position for other districts to seriously entertain forming partnerships with us.”

Franke is running for his second term on the board and said one of the major learning experiences in his time on the board was realizing just how deep personnel problems were running at the district. Friction between Henson and rank-and-file employees at the district have reached a boiling point more than once during the past three years as Henson implemented changes at the direction of the board.

“While things looked okay on the surface, there were cracks in that organization that I did not recognize as a new board member,” Franke said. “It’s like driving along a county road and running over a pothole. By the time you see the the alligator cracks and the potholes, it’s already past the point when it should have been repaired and it’s going to cost you a lot more to fix it. We should have done that before we created the WVFRA partnership.”

Franke, a former Marion County commissioner, said while MCFD1 is experiencing tremendous growing pains, it takes time to reset the foundations for a stable organization.

If re-elected, he would take a more proactive role in letting district employees and volunteers know that the changes are not being initiated by Henson alone.

“The board has to take a more active role in explaining changes and the value of creating additional partnerships with other fire districts,” Franke said.

One step in the right direction, said Palmer, Franke’s opponent, would be to cut down on the usage of legal services.

“We need leadership that can make decisions without going to attorneys. We have to have open dialogue and interact back and forth,” Palmer said.

The districts legal costs ballooned from $16,500 in 2007-08 to more than $275,000 in 2009-10.

“I feel they’ve overspent. Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue serves five cities and their legal line time was only $195,000 last year,” Palmer said.

Palmer is one of a handful of employees who either resigned or left the district after Henson was brought on as fire chief.

Palmer feels the district has not lived up to commitments made to taxpayers when they passed two bond levies to seismically upgrade MCFD’s Station 1 and replace equipment deemed unsafe. While the district has bought replacement engines for all of the equipment, two of the new engines remain on reserve while older vehicles are on the front line.

“As one of the people who went out and asked friends and neighbors to pass those bond measures, I don’t feel like the board has lived up to the commitments made,” Palmer said.

Palmer said he bears no ill will to Henson and does not believe that the only solution is Henson’s removal.

“I would base my decisions based forward from the date I it down at the table, but I question the board’s judgement in allowing him to carry a weapon while on duty. I think it places an unnecessary liability on the fire district,” Palmer said. In fall 2009, members of the MCFD and joint WVFRA board granted approval for Henson to carry a firearm on duty, a decision which came to light only after Henson was involved in a rollover accident en route to a commercial fire on New Year’s Eve 2010.

Palmer said his 23 years with the district and business experience as a small business owner and construction superintendent prepare him well for the task of a director on the MCFD fire board.

“I know the area, community members and the neighboring districts and have good relationships with all of them. I can be a good spokesperson for the volunteers and I have close relationship with career firefighters,” Palmer said.

Of the two contested races, Orville Downer is the undisputed veteran, he joined the Brooks Fire District as a volunteer in 1963 and became a member of the board in 1991. Primarily, he wants to see WVFRA through its growth pains.

“I think it’s going to be really good for both districts in the long run and it could be good for a lot of districts,” Downer said.

Downer said the primary duty of the board is to stand behind the chief and his decisions, a task he has no issue with in regards to Henson’s time on the job.

“I’m a strong supporter of the chief even if I didn’t like him, and I do think [Henson] is doing the job well. He was a little too timid at first, and it allowed some of the culture that has grown to prosper, and it’s hard to pull it back in,” Downer said.

Increased legal fees the board has approved in recent years is a result of that culture, Downer said.

“We’ve had as many as three unfair labor practices filed in a day and a few days later there’s more of them,” he said. He said one-on-one and mediated meetings with involved parties seldom bore fruit in the long term.

He has no regrets regarding the decision to allow the chief to carry a concealed weapon.

“I thought he was perfectly justified, and maybe it should have been public, but I’m perfectly comfortable with it and he’s as qualified to do that as he is to be chief,” Downer said.

Downer’s opponent, Andrea “Andi” Batchelor, said that improving communication within the district would be a top priority for her.

“Communication and trust between firefighters and the board is imperative, but it also has to extend into the community,” she said. “The community deserves to witness decisions being made, and while it is not possible to please everyone, I want to be able to refer to data and evidence to guide the decisions we make as a board.”

Batchelor has been regularly attending board meetings for more than two years, but it is her first run for elected office. She wants to see concrete plans made for the future of MCFD’s Station 1. Concerns about possible annexation into the Salem Fire Departments’s coverage area cannot be paralyzing, she added.

“Decisions have to be made carefully, but it is not acceptable to not keep promises to the taxpayers with the only explanation for why nothing has been done being because the decisions are hard to make. Our community and our firefighters deserve a safe building to live and work in and our volunteers need fire engines that are safe to operate,” she said.

Batchelor preferred not to speak directly regarding her assessment of Henson as fire chief, but said, “[If I’m elected,] there will be measurable goals and benchmarks. Consequences for unsatisfactory performance need to be combined with flexibility in anticipation for the unexpected, but not to the extent that the plan has no structure.”

Like Palmer, she said she would assess the situation moving forward.

Training as a school psychologist and a mediation certification from Portland State University prepare her well for the tasks of a fire board director, she said.

“I can move this organization forward effectively, efficiently, and in a manner that improves the community,” Batchelor said.


Exchange student bids MHS bon jour and au revoir

Alex Sykosky (left) hosted French exchange student Alexis Deluzurieu for two weeks (KEIZERTIMES/ Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The most surprising things about the U.S. for Alexis Deluzurieu, a French exchange student from Annecy, are differences of scale.

Streets are bigger, cars are bigger and the plates are bigger with more food on them.

“It’s all bigger than in France,” Deluzurieu, 15, said. “In France we can’t drive until we’re 18, so having teenagers drive is a big change.”

Deluzurieu arrived stateside two weeks ago with a contingent of about 90 students from his school visiting the U.S. after four years of courses in English. By the time this article hits stands, he’ll be back in Seattle for a two-day stay and then hop a flight back home.

McNary French teacher Marc McAvoy, who spent time in France as a semi-pro basketball player, enlisted Kyle Sykosky’s family to host Deluzurieu and put him to work in class.

“The other day, Alexis was the teacher’s aide assisting the kids in my class with their work,” McAvoy said.

Deluzurieu said the amount of interaction between students and teachers was a big change for him when he arrived.

“In France, the teacher will speak and we write and learn. The students talk a lot more here,” he said.

The Sykoskys arranged trips to OMSI and Multnomah Falls and planned an additional outing to the coast, but the one thing Deluzurieu most anticipated was a trip to an American fast food restaurant. Preferably, something other than McDonald’s, which has locations in France. Sykosky introduced Deluzurieu to his first Three Musketeers bar, which he enjoyed, but he was less enthusiastic about his first sip of root beer.

“Ach, I didn’t like it,” Deluzurieu said. McAvoy said he has yet to meet a European who doesn’t think root beer tastes like medicine.

The other big difference between Oregon and France, Deluzurieu said, is climate.

“It’s a lot colder here than it is at home,” he said.

One of the commonalities he discovered was that he and the students he met at McNary tended to listen to the same music. Discovering common ground is the best way to foster learning on the part of both exchange students and the classes they visit, McAvoy said.

“It’s nice to have a native speaker of the language so they can hear him speak it and it’s not just always me. His accent is perfect and a really nice thing for our students to hear,” he said.