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The school district's plan isn't due until Aug. 15. COVID-19 also means uncertainty for the budget.

JENNIFFER GRANT/MADRAS PIONEER - Madras Elementary students give a concert in 2018. The Jefferson County 509-J School District budget includes elementary school music teachers for the 2020-21 school year.The Jefferson County 509-J School District is surveying parents on how they want school to proceed in the fall, but it isn't making plans just yet.

The Oregon Department of Education released guidelines for schools last week, and Superintendent Ken Parshall said it is planning to revise them every three weeks. The district has until Aug. 15 to submit a plan.

"We don't want to put our plan together until we get community surveys and feedback," Parshall said.

To that end, the district surveyed families about how distance learning went during the fourth quarter, and it sent out another survey this week asking what families would like to see.

"We want to use the feedback from our community to help inform what the plan is," Parshall said. Along with the surveys, he plans to poll school leadership, teachers and support staff.

"We want it to be a real collaborative process," he said.

But the district hopes to have at least one option where students can to go to school every day, saying that being "face to face in front of an effective teacher" is best. At the same time, some families may not be ready, or they might have an adult at home who would be especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

"We want to serve their needs also," he said.

And the district has to follow guidelines set out by the state, and Parshall said staff would work with the Jefferson County Health Department to open school in the safest way possible.

Summer school

Summer instruction has been curtailed, but there will be two-week transition programs for incoming kindergartners, sixth and ninth graders during the second and third weeks of August.

Distance learning

Parshall acknowledged the difficulties of distance learning on families and staff. He said the district isn't unique.

"I haven't talked to anybody where it beat out traditional schooling," he said. "It's been hard and frustrating."

He said everyone did their best, but switching to online and packet learning wasn't ideal.

"It's been painful, but locally, I'm really proud of our staff and our family members. They were really patient and kind to each other. That's not what took place in every community.

"I think in tough times, it's really important to be kind to each other," he continued. "We'll remember this, but we'll also remember how we treated each other."

Budget uncertainties

COVID-19 has also affected the budget process. Schools in Oregon have to submit their budgets before they get revenue projections from the state, so budgets are often subject to revision. But in the second year of the Legislature's biennium, which 2020-21 is, funds are generally stable. However, because of the economic impacts of COVID-19, the Legislature is holding a special session to discuss what is expected to be a massive budget shortfall.

The school district passed its budget on May 11, assuming the general fund is likely to be stable. But districts across the state were expecting substantial grants totaling $1 billion a year statewide.

Parshall said the district was planning to hire new positions with its grant, but those hires are on hold for now.

The proposed $72,684,788 budget anticipates an increase of $2.8 million. And it includes some new positions paid for by the general fund.

Those include elementary music teachers; an elementary position to reduce class size ratios from 25 students per teacher to 22 for first and second grade; four instructional coaches; four intervention teachers; two elective teachers; three FAN advocates; one drug and alcohol counselor; one school nurse; and one American Sign Language interpreter.

The budget also includes the purchase of four buses and a remodel of the Metolius Elementary cafeteria.

The district got a grant for seismic upgrades to the cafeteria, and it can save money by remodeling the kitchen at the same time, Parshall said.

The bulk of the budget is for salaries and payroll costs, which comprise 71% of the total.

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