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Rainier School Board sends letter to state advocating more local power

"Bring us back" stock

Rainier High School students rally against online learning and suspended sports seasons as school administrators leave the parking lot back in January.

RAINIER — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will receive a letter from Rainier advocating for local choice on mask mandates after the school board unanimously approved it Monday.

Board vice-chair Kari Hollander was not present at the meeting.

“This unilateral decision with no advance warning or opportunity for feedback instantly removed the ability for communities to make decisions based on what is best for our community,” the letter said.

The letter, signed by all present board members, said that the mask mandate “will eliminate the ability for some of our students to access their free and appropriate public education.”

“While we will uphold our oath of office, we are respectfully asking that mandates not be placed on school districts that remove local control and do not permit us to lead the communities for which we serve,” the letter said.

Rainier Superintendent: District does not have control over mask mandate

Superintendent Joseph Hattrick said he was frustrated by the state mandates and has been working to advocate with local legislators and get the community involved in “getting this message out there.”

“Do I think masks help, yes; do I support choice, yes,” he said.

Cases in Columbia County have been rising lately, with an average of 10 cases per day reported, which is a 48% increase from the average two weeks ago, according to New York Times data.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 1 in 24 residents have been infected, a total of 2,192 reported cases.

Board chair Elaine Placido asked what the district would do if the state again mandated remote education.

Hattrick said that was a “scary thought” and he was just hoping not to get there.

“When I see articles that other states have moved in that direction I get nervous,” he said. “We need to continue to advocate for our communities; we will continue to call lawmakers and seek an audience with the governor.”

Rainier School District to get new technology with federal relief funds

The board also voted to reduce sports fees.

Over the past four years, the fees have fluctuated. Hattrick said last year, the board approved a $100 per sport fee for middle school students and a $150 per sport fee for high school students. However, all fees were waived last year because of the pandemic.

From 2016 to 2019, the fee was $50 per sport for middle school students and $100 per sport for high school students. On average, the sports fees have brought in $33,700, while the average cost for the sports programs is about $164,000. Hattrick said the board has transferred $125,500 from the general fund each year on average to cover the difference.

Hattrick presented the board with several options: to keep the fees approved last year; to eliminate all fees; to use the older fee structure with a $500 cap per family; or to adopt a modified fee schedule with the first high school sport costing $100 and additional sports at $50 each and for the first middle school sport costing $50 and additional sports $25.

He also floated the idea of allowing sports scholarships to cover fees for low-income students.

The board voted unanimously to eliminate sports fees at the middle school level and to do the modified fee schedule for high schoolers, along with adding financial need scholarships.

The board will re-evaluate the effect of ending middle school fees during the next budget cycle. Hattrick estimated a roughly $10,000 loss from the fee revenue.

Ethics complaint against former Rainier superintendent dismissed

Board member Christina Hendricks said through athletics, “students learn hard work” and are more likely to achieve their goals, which was why she supported it.

Especially with the pandemic, board member Rod Harding said he would “Like for us to take some of the financial stress off,” though he overall would like to see all fees for sports eliminated.

In other business, the board:

  • Heard the pool is not open for summer school because the pool vacuum broke and would cost $30,000 to fix.
  • Heard the district will not be getting the 10-passenger vans it approved at the last meeting, as there is a parts shortage.
  • Raised the cap on exchange students allowed to attend the district from a total of five to a total of 12.
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