Budget cuts hit hard
NCSD12 is faced with its fourth year of reduced state revenue and for the 2011-2012 school year, multiple changes have been made throughout the district to decrease financial pressures.
“The 2008-2009 school year was the highest revenue period in North Clackamas history and we have been in a decline ever since,” Tim Mills, superintendent, said. “The economic crisis could go on for another three years because it is so hard to maintain costs. But the quality of the schools has not gone down because we are trying to maintain as many programs as we can and we have outstanding teachers and principals.”
To compensate for the budget reduction this year, approximately 160 staff positions were cut district wide. Clackamas and Campbell elementary school were shut down, and Sojourner and Linwood are now run out of one building. Sixth grade has moved into the middle schools, adding 300 students across Aldercreek, Happy Valley, and Rowe.
At the high school level, Clackamas, Milwaukie, and Rex Putnam are experiencing similar changes. Students are required to earn 24 instead of 25 credits to graduate and to complete an Extended Application instead of a Senior Seminar Project. There is also a $25 fee charged to students involved in the music, drama and speech programs. Certain sports had to become self-funded. Underclassmen are required to take a study hall and upperclassmen are required one free period.
Matt Utterback, CHS principal, said that they are unable to offer certain AP classes this year, leaving students with fewer options. But Utterback has used the budget shortfall to implement positive changes in his high school.
“The budget cuts “have forced us to look at the things we do and ask ourselves ‘can we do this differently?’” Utterback said. “We now utilize substitutes more efficiently by making them cover another class during their free periods and have created a makeup test center in the career center.”
According to Mark Pinder, MHS principal, the biggest change at his high school is they are not offering a business class because students can learn the same skills at the Sabin and Schellenberg Center. They are also not offering one choir and one PE option.
Kathleen Walsh, RPHS principal, said they have lost Sports and Society and are phasing out the German program.
SSC Principal Karen Phillips said they have also lost four programs: interior design, fashion design, information technology and building trades.
But according to some administrators, teachers and students at the three high schools, the most noticeable change is larger class sizes.
“It was common that teachers had 160 students and now it’s close to 200,” Walsh said. “Teachers get tired quicker and I’m worried about the load on them.”
Jack Reynolds, RPHS Physics teacher, said that “morale among faculty is low,” because of frozen pay, multiple years of staff cuts and the strain of larger classes. But Reynolds concludes the increased student to teacher ratio will only affect certain students.
“Bigger classes won’t affect motivated students because they take care of their business on their own and unmotivated students don’t care unless teachers get on them about doing homework,” Reynolds said. “It’s the kids on the fence who are easy to skip over and who will fall through the cracks because they won’t get the attention that they need.”
Less attention students receive from teachers will lead to more students earning poor grades and having negative behavior he said. Because of this, Reynolds expects a spike in both the amount of referrals given out and in the dropout rate.
Brittany Gentry, RPHS junior, doesn’t believe that the larger class sizes will affect her performance in school, but it may affect her classmates.
“I always sit in front so bigger class sizes don’t really affect me,” Gentry said. “There are more people to be distracted by though.”
Mills is hopeful the financial strain will not be as dramatic in upcoming years and is touched by support from the staff and the community this school year.
“North Clackamas School District employees and the community have pulled together in an incredible way to do everything they can for students,” Mills said. “Great things are happening with the students.”
He believes they’re performing very well through music, sports and academics while continuing to learn despite the budget shortfalls.