Editor's Note: This story includes a correction and additional clarification from an earlier version on specifics involving the course cut-backs.
When a group of Philomath High School students heard about a district administrative decision to cut back on its course offerings for calculus, they didn’t just shrug their shoulders and accept the news.
Instead, they decided to bring their disapproval to the school board and during Thursday night’s meeting, senior Reya Fairbanks served as a student voice.
“Currently we have a three-trimester calculus class and it might be shortened to two trimesters and I talked about how that would have a negative effect on the class and the kids in the class,” Fairbanks said after the meeting. “I wanted to give a perspective from a student and I gave some reasons why that would be bad and why it was important to us.”
Melissa Goff, superintendent of schools, said the situation involves "compacting a class" for both advanced placement calculus and a lower-level algebra course from three to two terms.
School board member Shelley Niemann, who headed up the effort within the community for the recent levy renewal, was upset about the prospect of a class being cut.
“Part of the promise that we made was to not cut programs and so forth and I campaigned hard for that, so it’s hard for me to sit up here and have our community paying into that out of their taxes and then have a student sit before me and say ‘my class is going to be cut,’” Niemann said during the meeting. “Those two things don’t go well together in my opinion.”
Goff asked if the lower-level algebra class should be given the same consideration as the calculus class. Niemann said whatever needs to happen as long as the decision can be reviewed and other options explored.
Goff said the district will not be cutting core programs but does need to examine the structures currently in place and how they impact students across the schedule.
“For me, I’d like to look at it holistically and not just in pieces at a time because I think that’s where we’ve gotten into trouble in the past,” board chair Jim Kildea said with board member Greg Gerding agreeing.
Kildea later asked if the board could receive from Goff some “specific insights as to what will change with curriculum or class offerings,” later adding, “I’d like to see that because a lot of times what happens is people get out the torches and pitchforks because the board decided to do something.”
Board member Shelly Brown said it’s not an easy situation when a district’s financial standing impacts programs and classes.
“There are hard decisions that will have to be made in the budget committee meetings,” Brown said. “The reality is there’s only so many dollars that go around and I don’t want any classes cut and I don’t want any classes to be larger. I don’t want any of those things, but there’s no perfect answer for any of it. I want to be able to honor the bond and do our best.”
Gerding added, “We made a commitment. We made promises.”
In other news from Thursday’s meeting:
• The administrative team reviewed 2018-19 academic information through assessments that had been completed as part of the leadership report.
• In her superintendent's report, Goff went over the results of a student wellness survey through the Oregon Health Authority. The comprehensive survey of last year's juniors featured results that appeared to be very favorable of the educational experience at Philomath compared to statewide numbers.
• Goff said the Student Performance Committee that had been organized was still looking through student data and needed more time to address issues. Goff attached information to board members’ meeting packets and asked for feedback. She said the committee plans to meet again in April following spring break.
• Bill Mancuso, business manager, announced the district had the rare distinction of receiving four state-funded grants through the Technical Assistance Program. Four grants, each ranging from $20,000 to $25,000, were awarded for facilities assessment, long-range facility plan, seismic assessment and environmental hazard study.
• The board approved a consent agenda, which includes previous meeting minutes, bills and out-of-state field trips.
• The board approved proposed 2019-20 and 2020-21 school calendars with August start dates.
• The board approved a declaration to continue the district’s practice of an open district. Philomath allows students to come and go out of the district. Recent changes in state law have brought the issue to the forefront. Goff said many more students come into the district than leave.
• The board approved $162,723.59 in Measure 98 money, formally known as the High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness Fund. The board also approved an $11,000 categorical transfer from within the general fund.