• Key Communicators Bulletin

    November 24, 2016

    Dear Key Communicators,

    I am wishing you the very best on this Thanksgiving holiday. May you be with family and friends, may you eat well and smile a lot, and may the Dallas Cowboys lose miserably.

    The “first Thanksgiving,” was neither a feast nor a holiday, but a simple gathering. Following the Mayflower’s arrival at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620, the Pilgrims - the first immigrants in what is now the United States - suffered the loss of 46 of their original 102 colonists. With the help of 91 Native Americans, the remaining Pilgrims survived the bitter winter and yielded a bountiful harvest in 1621. In celebration, a traditional harvest festival, lasting three days brought the Pilgrims and Native Americans to unite in a “thanksgiving” observance.

    Topics covered in this edition of the Key Communicator Bulletin:

    • Construction Bond Update

    • Expanded Access to the School-based Health Center

    • Election Impacts on District Programs, Budget, and Community

    Construction Bond Update
    Please visit our 2016 Construction Bond Levy web and Facebook pages. Both have information about project scopes and schedules and on how to provide input to the various projects set to occur at every one of our facilities. For instance, we just held Open Houses on November 2nd at Wy’east and on November 15th & 17th at May Street where parents and community members could review design work to-date, talk with architects and district officials, and provide feedback.

    Webpage: https://www.hoodriver.k12.or.us/domain/1385
    Facebook Page: search for “HRCSD 2016 Bond Project” or @HRCSD2016BondProject

    Access Expanded to the School-based Health Center located at HRVHS
    Access to a full range of health services is now available to all youth in Hood River County - not just to students enrolled at HRVHS. Please see the attached Public Service Announcement from students in the Health-Media Club. “We are expanding services to include all students within the school district because healthy students learn best,” says Lynne Frost, Administrator and Medical Director for the SBHC, which is one of three locations operated by One Community Health, a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center with facilities in Hood River and The Dalles. “Offering access to all students promotes greater access to health care services to keep kids healthy, and this better positions them to be successful in school. It’s a win-win all around.”

    Students from other campuses need a parent or guardian present when accessing care during health center hours at the high school. Anyone with questions about hours of operation is encouraged to call the SBHC for more information. Here are the details:

    • Center Location: Hood River Valley High School

    • Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., when school is in session, following the Hood

      River County School District Annual School Calendar.

    • Appointments (Walk-ins Welcome): 541-308-8345; 541-386-6380, after hours. Please

      note, off-campus students must first obtain a visitor's badge at the high school’s front

      office prior to their appointment.

    • More information: call 541-308-8345; 541-386-6380, after hours.

    Impacts of November 8, 2016 Elections
    The district administration and our school board have received an incredible number of messages from parents, community members, and staff after the November 8 national and state-level elections. Some emails express anxiety, some express anger, others express frustration - and not all about who won or lost elected office positions.

    Ballot Measures 97, 98, and 99
    The election saw a resounding defeat of Measure 97, which would have raised about $3 billion per year for state services, including K-12 education, via a corporate gross receipts tax. The election also saw the passage of Measures 98 and 99. Measure 98 requires an expansion of Career- Technical Education, College Preparedness, and Dropout Prevention programs at the high school level. This measure will cost the state $256 million and requires local school districts to spend an additional $800 per high-school aged student. Measure 99 allocates approximately $22 million annually to outdoor school programs from the Lottery Fund. While these two new programs appear to be well-intentioned, there is no additional revenue to pay for them. In fact, the state has announced a projected deficit of approximately $1.7 billion for next year. Furthermore, the program additions from Measures 98 & 99 come at the same time that PERS and health insurance rates have skyrocketed. In fact, increases in the state’s PERS rates will cost our school district a minimum of $1,044,000 per year for the next two years (and an additional $6.5 million or more over the next 4 years). For some perspective, just the PERS increases equate to about 15% of our general fund budget in HRCSD!

    So, where will the funds for Measures 98 and 99, and the additional PERS/health insurance costs come from? If the past is indeed the best predictor of the future, these required new state-level programs will come at the expense of our existing program... in other words, state funding will likely fall short of funding Measures 98 & 99 and maintaining what we already have in place. In that case, the only option for most school districts will be to cut existing programs, cut staff, increase class sizes, cut school days off the calendar - or some combination thereof - in order to balance our budget.

    I want you to know that over these past three-and-a-half years, our school district has made very difficult, cost-saving decisions that should protect us - in the short-term - from the massive deficits listed above. For instance: 1) we were a leader in advocating at the state legislature for improved funding for the 2015-17 biennium; 2) we made substantial operational changes (primarily away from the classroom) leading to major financial efficiencies; and 3) we employed a number of significant budget and spending controls across all schools and the district. Because of these reforms, we were able to add programs such as additional P.E., music, and counseling (while decreasing K-3 class sizes by approximately 8%) at the elementary schools, added foreign language teachers at the middle level, and increased teaching FTE at the high school.

    You might ask, “What were the efficiencies that created the conditions for these program additions at a time of depressed state level funding?” Just a few examples that will help keep us afloat in the 2017-19 biennium:

    • Staggering the start/end times between elementary and secondary schools reduced the number of bus routes, which reduced the number of buses that we need to maintain and purchase, and we reducing the number of miles driven (hence fuel costs). This also had the effect of slightly increasing the sleep hours for our teenagers - something research unequivocally supports. Of course transportation and heating fuel costs are also much lower, which compounded the savings over the last three years.

    • You don’t feel it, but our I.T. Department under Tod Hilstad’s leadership took on total responsibility for our network and internet functions. When I came here in 2013, our regional Educational Service District (ESD) performed those services and we paid heavily for them. By the way... our connectivity and internet consistency have improved over this time.

    • We have won significant grants that have offset costs to our general fund, most significantly in substitute costs. For instance the “Collaboration Grant” alone has increased critical professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators by hundreds of thousands of dollars - costs that would have been borne in the general fund if we did not have grants.

    • Lastly, our school board adopted my recommended budget in the spring 2014, which included a new “Biennial Reserve Fund.” This fund established a mechanism to create a reserve for two purposes: to protect us against predicted PERS increases, and to protect us from the legislature’s new practice of allocating funds without including traditional and predictable roll-up costs. The resources now in this fund will come close to covering the PERS rate increases for the next two years.

    But to be clear, without adequate state-level funding - funding that includes additional resources to cover the additional requirements under Measures 98 and 99 - we simply cannot sustain this level of programming far into the future. I predict a very tough legislative session where schools - and advocates for schools like you - will need to fight for every available dollar just to stay afloat.

    Elections to Political Offices
    Regarding the election results for individual political offices, it's important for all of us to recognize that many of our neighbors voted for different candidates for different reasons - and that the residents of Hood River County don't have to be as polarized as our national politics seem to want us to be. I urge you to read a message I wrote to our entire community just after the election that aims to bring us together for the sake of our children: https://www.hoodriver.k12.or.us/Page/8134.

    There have recently been rumors circulating on Facebook that our students have been behaving poorly toward one another along racial lines at the high school. This is absolutely false. In fact, our students have come together as a cohesive student body; student leaders have gone so far as to write a passionate open letter to the entire HRCSD community declaring their unity and faith in one another (see attached). It’s important not to get wrapped up into rumors on social media - level heads must prevail.

    District Policy & Procedure Related to Relations with Law Enforcement Agencies
    Regardless of your personal political bent, or your preferences about specific policies favored by winning politicians, schools must remain safe, productive, predictable learning environments for every one of our students. In fact, the first “Collective Commitment” in our District’s Strategic Plan drives us to “ENSURE STUDENTS ARE SAFE, KNOWN AND ACCEPTED:” https://www.hoodriver.k12.or.us/domain/5

    Public schools represent one of the only entities that is mandated to serve everyone who walks through our doors regardless of income level, national origin, religious affiliation, gender, race, perceived ability, etc. Members of our School Board and I have received many inquiries into what the District is doing to protect students from all walks of life. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with President-elect Trump’s campaign rhetoric about things such as a national registry for Muslims, deportation of about 11 million illegal immigrants, a massive border wall, etc., many of our students who come from immigrant families, and who are ethnic minorities, are anxious - anxious to even send their children to school.

    Some elected school boards in different areas of the country (such as Portland Public Schools and Los Angeles Unified) have passed resolutions declaring that their schools are “safe zones” for their students. These resolutions have declared that federal law enforcement officials, specifically Immigration Officials, cannot access students at school without a warrant. Our school board has been asked by many, many people to take a similar stand. I want to let you know that, regardless of our school board’s decision on a adopting a similar resolution, we already have Policy and Procedure in place that requires law enforcement officials to obtain permission from the Superintendent if attempting to access our students (except in cases involving incidents of child abuse, probable cause that an illegal act or crime is occurring, or a warrant for an arrest or search). These can be found here:

    • Policy: http://policy.osba.org/hoodriver/KL/KN%20G1.PDF
    • Procedure: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B9EgDpdB8QZ6ZHczWGtSM0hfQTg

    So, in the event that Immigration Officials, for instance, wanted to access any of our students without a warrant, I already have the authority - based on our policies and rules - to deny that request... and I will. I will deny that request for two reasons:

    • First, the law prohibits public schools from asking about, or maintaining information on, a student’s immigration status. We simply do not have that information and I will never allow a witch-hunt to occur in our schools.
    • Second, public schools by definition, are for everyone - we don’t turn away children from any background from receiving an education. My core belief - and why I show up everyday as your superintendent - is that every child deserves real and meaningful access to a brighter future. In the information age, that brighter future is simply unattainable without an excellent, affirming education.

    Importantly, neither school board policy or a district procedure, nor a School Board Resolution, can supersede the law; therefore, we cannot legally intervene when a signed warrant is presented in any instance. But, we do have the necessary tools in place to create zones of safety for all our children.

    I realize this Key Communicator Bulletin was long and detailed. I hope that you will continue to be positive ambassadors for all of the Hood River County schools. As always, please give me a call if you want to discuss anything related to our schools.

    My very best on this Thanksgiving holiday-