The White Salmon Valley School District is facing a decline in the number of students expected to enroll next year. In response, the school district has been forced to make cuts in its course offerings at Columbia High School.
Having to make cuts in programs and teaching positions is always a difficult position for a school board to be in. There are no good alternatives, and no cuts are easy.
That said, however, it is distressing to see where the school board directed cuts to be made. The two areas the White Salmon Valley School District board of directors has chosen to make its deepest personnel cuts in -- woodworking and horticulture -- are course offerings that have provided opportunities for students interested in pursuing careers in the wood products industry or in agriculture.
In a historical sense, this is a community that was built on two economic pillars. One, of course, is the timber industry. Logging and producing wood products has been essential to the towns of White Salmon and Bingen from the beginning. That was true in the 1800s, the 1900s, and remains true today. In the modern era, SDS Lumber Co. in particular is a vibrant and vital employer, as well as a company that has continually and generously invested in and supported this community.
The second key economic base for our community over the years is agriculture. From our heritage as a fruit-producing area to our current and well-publicized distinction as a superb wine-producing region, agriculture has always been critical to this area. It is an integral part of our rural way of life, as well as an economic engine. Like SDS, Underwood Fruit in Bingen is a key local employer and contributor to the community, and the many new wineries in the area have been spearheading a modest economic boom.
Are our schools telling us they see no future in the forest products industry, or in agriculture?
The school board's move is an ironic and symbolic dismissal of the industries that shaped the mid-Columbia Gorge area and helped to make our community the jewel it is today. It's a shame.