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Oregon's schools have slipped to the point that some people are beginning to realize that eliminating programs will have an impact on students' educational opportunities. Portland, Beaverton and Joseph voters Tuesday said they won't stand for any more reductions. Voters in the three districts passed tax measures to stem the tide of cuts.

JOSEPH and the Portland area sent an important message. Schools are important, and assuring quality programs requires sufficient funding.

La Grande is in the process of sorting out how it will make an estimated $3.4 million cut in next year's budget. Unlike Portland and Beaverton, new revenue isn't an option. La Grande's budget committee is in the process of gathering public input on proposed cuts. The question facing the budget committee and the school board

isn't an easy one to answer — how to effect the cuts and have the least impact on students. As Monday's hearing proved, the potential loss of complete programs will be detrimental to kids, and that should be viewed as unacceptable.

Monday's hearing brought to light the important role the district's alternative education program is to the students in the program. Started just a few years ago, the alternative school has made a difference in the lives of students whose learning styles are different from those in the high school population at large. The alternative program is keeping kids in school. The program is teaching them to set and work toward goals, and to succeed. The district needs to find a way to show the students in the program, and those likely to follow, that they, too, are important. "... We all pay a huge price for every kid we lose,'' alternative school teacher Pete Ridder told the budget committee Wednesday night.

The program's cost — about $170,000 — is minimal in comparison to the district's $14 million. The district's athletic budget, in comparison, is twice that much. Athletics serves more kids, but also has a greater chance of surviving a bigger cut during lean years through fund-raising. Eliminating the alternative school would virtually doom the program.

Deciding on where to cut isn't easy. Superintendent Jay Rowell has surely struggled with the recommendations he has made. The alternative school was among the easiest of targets, though. The kids in the program don't have a lot of voices speaking for them like athletics and some of the other programs do. Other programs are faced with reductions, but they aren't faced with elimination. The alternative program is alone on that front.

All of this should be unacceptable to a community that cares about its schools and its kids. If we can't find a way over the course of the next year to replace the revenue like Portland and Beaverton have done, care has to be taken in applying the cuts. Spreading the reductions out and preserving programs, even shortening the school year, makes more sense than completely jeopardizing some students' chance to succeed.


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