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Environmental education in McKenzie’s future?

Charter school busFINN ROCK: A “horrendous $459,000 budget deficit” and the loss of 6.91 positions is the harsh image officials see when they look toward the future, people learned at the April meeting of the McKenzie School Board. An alternate opportunity, based on the possible creation of a public charter school, was also up for review.

A sixteen member charter school steering committee is currently exploring what impacts the changeover might bring about. Some of their talking points range from maintaining current offerings to reviving dormant programming lost during budget and enrollment declines. Some of the latter include classes in Home Economics, shop or health occupations.

Offering insights on legalities as well as tips from programs developed at other schools was Kate Pattison from the Oregon Dept. of Education. “In your case you would have a K-12 charter school that would be governed by a separate board potentially responsible for the curriculum and what programs look like,” she noted.

“In a small district we often see the district retains the employees and the charter contracts back for them and the facilities in a service agreement.”

A key point for people to remember, Pattison said, is that, “Charter schools aren’t private schools. They don’t just run around, do whatever they want, hire whoever they want and have freedom from everything. There is some flexibility, however that’s in exchange for accountability,” she added.

Grants are available from the state to plan a charter school and help it become operational. School superintendent Jim Thom-as cautioned that there would not be an influx of new money. “There’s absolutely no change in the money the districts receive,” he pointed out. “The only change is the distribution within the system.”

Pattison said at least 80% of the funds would be allocated for K - 8 students in a charter school. For grades 9 - 12, the amount is 95%. The school district would retain the remaining percentages to pay for things like the administration, alternative programs and special education.

What advantages could the creation of a charter school mean for McKenzie? Besides bringing back dormant programs, there’s the potential of creating new classes that would bring in transfer students. Some people are pinning their hopes on a curriculum based on the area’s natural attractions.

“There’s a bright future for natural resource management in a variety of different ways,” according to Cliff Richardson. “We are uniquely situated in a natural resource area. That’s obvious because people move here to retire. There are also opportunities here for work and we have agencies available like the Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife, the Guides Association. These are all folks who have expressed interest in working with us.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Kurt Cox, a member of the McKenzie Watershed Council. Other members of the council include representatives from resource extraction, he said, including, “Timber to gravel to the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife. What that means to me is we have folks that are interested in assisting.”

Pattison said that approach could be part of a trend for “product based learning.” Putting a program like that together would  take a significant amount of coordination to make sure teachers have been well trained she felt. “However, it can be amazing, like the best thing in the whole world.” She pointed to the Southwest School, a charter in Portland that has taken on the Willamette River as their classroom. “The kids get to walk to the river and take part in play based learning. The parents know their kids will come home muddy but they love to come to school.

The charter school committee is in the process of gathering public input. To take part in a survey, go to:


McKenzie River Reflections


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