District won't cut John Muir classes

Additional funding from the state has saved John Muir School's seventh and eighth grades from being eliminated next academic year, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro announced Thursday afternoon.

At Monday's School Board meeting, Di Chiro proposed that the district cut two grades from John Muir and a part-time teacher to save about $45,000 and help close the expected $1.5 million budget gap.

However, on Tuesday state legislators approved a $5.7 billion school funding plan that will give $100 million more to education than Gov. John Kitzhaber's original proposal and likely result in only a $1.1 million deficit for the district, Di Chiro said. The difference is enough to spare the John Muir program from losing any grade levels or teachers, Principal Elisa Tacconi said Friday morning.

"The John Muir School families and staff were just really pleased to fund out there's funding from the state to support our k-8 magnet school," she said. "These are really challenging financial times, and we just want to move on from here."

Di Chiro and Tacconi apologized for the budget confusion in an email sent to John Muir students and parents Thursday afternoon.

"We are sorry for all of the confusion over this issue, but the volatile funding process makes it difficult to carefully plan our school district budget," the letter reads. "While we are grateful for additional resources to our district, we regret the upheaval this has caused."

John Muir parents expressed relief at the news Friday.

"So many of the parents are thrilled because this is exactly what our big concern was — losing the seventh- and eighth-grade classes," said Katherine Holden, who spoke against the John Muir cuts at Monday's meeting, on behalf of more than 45 families. "We're really glad the board reversed this decision."

Pauline Black, whose daughter is in eighth grade at John Muir, said the school teaches older students leadership by having them mentor the younger ones.

"That continuity is important," she said. "The younger kids look up to the older ones and say, 'When I'm that age, I can do backpacking or snow camping.'"

Seventh-grade John Muir student Mason McIntyre was excited to find out Friday that she will be able to attend the school next year after all.

"We're like a family here," she said. "I was sad when I found out they might take that away."

Mason and the other seventh- and eighth-grade students returned Friday from a 24-hour snow camping trip in Ashland's mountains. At John Muir, a magnet school that focuses on environmental education, students spend most Fridays outdoors.

Although the school will remain fully operational next academic year, district administrators are closely watching enrollment in the seventh and eighth grades, Di Chiro said.

School officials are working to recruit at least four more seventh- and eighth-grade students for next academic year, to bring the combined class size to 24 students, Tacconi said.

The deadline for registration for all grades at John Muir has been extended to April 28. If more students apply than there are openings for, a lottery will be held.

The additional state funding also means that the district won't need to layoff a half-time elementary music teacher, as Di Chiro had originally proposed, she said. It also means the district likely won't need to make any further cuts than those Di Chiro outlined Monday, she said.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we've identified enough cuts," she said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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