Another foreseen decline in student enrollment forced the White Salmon Valley School District board of directors to reorganize -- for the second year in a row -- Columbia High School's educational program.
Last Thursday the five-member board made it official by authorizing Columbia High's plan for a seven-period, semester schedule -- a plan necessitated by a projected enrollment drop from 422 in 2005 to 320-326 next year.
Noted CHS Principal Malcolm Dennis in his report to the board: "Several large classes of students have been graduating out of CHS for the past several years. Enrollment for 2008-09 should drop again but should stay above 300 students. Enrollment should then level off for the next four to five years, with slow growth to follow."
Until a turnaround in high school enrollment occurs, however, the district has to make ends meet, Superintendent Dale Palmer said.
The only way it can do that for the time being is by revamping CHS's educational program "to assure anticipated expenditures align with projected revenues," the board's resolution stated, "and that the number of certificated employees under contract does not exceed the number of positions needed to operate the educational program."
Prior to the 2006-07 school year, CHS switched from a modified block, semester schedule to a five-period, trimester schedule and reduced its staffing needs accordingly by eliminating one full-time teaching position in Social Studies.
This latest CHS reorganization also entails staff cuts.
In conjunction with the schedule change decision, the school board approved a resolution calling for the reduction of two full-time certificated staff positions at CHS to half-time equivalent positions. The cutbacks were made in CHS's Horticulture and Woodworking programs.
"There's no easy or good way to go here," board chairman Tom Stevenson said as he and fellow directors Josie Salka, Kris Kreps, Kristie Hurn and Bill Clack discussed the CHS overhaul during the board's April meeting.
Two members of the community expressed concerns about the staffing reductions.
Rick Shinn of Husum and Jacqueline Moreau of White Salmon implored board members to look for other areas to scale back to offset the cost of keeping the Horticulture and Woodworking positions full time.
"Cutting back these programs is a way of saying they are less valuable than others," said Moreau, who works at CHS as a para-educator.
The Horticulture and Woodworking programs were selected for budget cutbacks based on a review of enrollment in all CHS Career and Technical Education (CTE), or elective, courses.
Palmer explained that the staffing reductions had to be made prior to May 15, as per Washington state law and terms in the collective bargaining agreement between local teachers and the district.
Moreover, he and the CHS management team concluded it was better to offer some courses in Horticulture and Woodworking than to eliminate one or the other entirely.
"Change is hard, cuts are hard, but we've got to make some tough decisions," said Palmer, because "next year we are only going to have enough money for 4.25 CTE teaching positions."
Columbia High currently employs 6.25 teachers in CTE programs. CHS will achieve its budget figure of 4.25 through the contraction in certificated staffing and through retirements.
The board accepted the resignations of two half-time CTE teachers, JoAnn Hamilton (Independent Living) and Rae Meaney (Publications), during last Thursday's meeting. Those resignations take effect at the end of the current school year.