Community rallies around welding program after COVID-19 cuts
On a recent afternoon in front of Estacada City Hall, Keller Kishpaugh held a sign that advocated for saving the welding program at Estacada High School. Nearby, several parents coordinated a petition to keep the program for the 2020-21 school year after it had been reduced because of COVID-19 related budget cuts.
As of Wednesday, July 22, an online version of the same petition has received 798 signatures.
Keller, a rising sophomore at Estacada High School, said that welding teacher David Richards feels like one of his best friends.
"He's my motivation to go to school," he said on Monday, July 20. "I'm really proud people want it to be back. I'm proud that people are thinking of welding."
During an online town hall meeting Tuesday, July 21, Estacada School District leaders said if the community could secure $130,000 in sustainable private funding to cover the cost of a welding teacher's salary, PERS and workers comp, they would cover the supplies and equipment costs with help from grants and donations.
Because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Kate Brown has advised all state funded institutions to prepare for an 8% general fund budget reduction — which would mean $1.8 million less for the Estacada School District. In the first round of budget cuts, the district reduced its budget by 4.3% and hopes that the quickly evolving situation related to COVID-19 improves.
"We all acknowledge that we are in tough times given the COVID crisis, the financial economic impact of the COVID crisis and the tough decisions that our school district needs to make in order to offer the best opportunities for our children, as well as maintain financial solvency," said Estacada School District Superintendent Ryan Carpenter. "As businesses shut down, employees became unemployed, and families and citizens were not earning an income. Therefore, the state of Oregon collects less revenue from the income tax, ultimately leading to what's going to be a considerable shortfall throughout the state, including the Estacada School District and what that looks like."
The Estacada School Board voted to reduce the welding program during a meeting Thursday, July 9. Additional budget cuts for the upcoming school year include library positions at Clackamas River and River Mill Elementary schools, a paraeducator position from both elementary schools, one paraeducator and one math teacher Estacada Middle School, the athletic trainer contract at Estacada High School, deferring the purchase of two new school buses, a ninth grade student success coach, and not rehiring for the vacant technology director position.
During the town hall meeting, which drew around 50 participants, Carpenter explained that of elective courses like agriculture, art, auto mechanics and agriculture, metals had the lowest number of forecasted enrollment at 287 students. Conversely, agriculture drew 591 students and art drew 500 students.
"The Estacada School District funds its elective and CTE programs entirely based off student interest," Carpenter said. "We recognize that through the legal requirements, we ask our students to do a lot of things because they have to. They have to take math, they have to take English, they have to take science and social studies. When electives are available to them, we want this to be the process and the pace where students get to pick and students get to drive what the Estacada School District offers for them."
In interviews prior to the town hall meeting, several parents spoke of the benefits that the welding program had brought to their students.
"He actually wanted to go to school. He was sad once COVID happened. He was missing school, friends and that teacher," said Keller's mother, Jennifer Kishpaugh. "A lot of kids have said, 'if welding isn't there, I'm leaving.'"
"(Mr.) Richards took them to competitions and they gained so much confidence in themselves," said Tracie Udey, whose son participated in welding for all four years of high school. "I'm devastated we didn't get to have a word and see about having the program half-time, or three-quarters time."
Estacada School board chair Ben Wheeler said he took nine metals courses in his eight semesters at Estacada High School and acknowledged that budget cuts are difficult.
"It's not a decision that we enjoy doing, but as an elected school board, it's something we have to do," he said.
Vice chair Ken Riedel thanked the community for sharing their concerns.
"I want to acknowledge and appreciate the community for saying, 'hey, this is important to us and we want to talk about it," he said. "I can tell you from my experience, most districts would not take this time to even put this together, so I feel very proud to be part of the organization that says, 'yes we want to have the conversation.'"
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