I get that question often when people inquire how our district keeps chugging along with such a small number of students and a shrinking population base. Sometimes the questioner presumes that our district must be closing down soon and asks: “What went wrong?” At the same time most proclaim a companion question: “How are you able to pull off running such a great little school?” Underlying these conversations with neighbors, relatives, friends in town, public school administration colleagues and other educators, most folks pray our little school on the mountain will persist.
Pat and I attended our first school board meeting in the summer of 1975, full of similar questions. As recent immigrants from Chicago and before that New York City and Buffalo; as two experienced public and private school teachers; as the procreators of our first child due in October, we had never seen a school like Pinehurst and feared it would fall far short of our goals for our future scholar.
Obviously, forty-two years later, having watched both of our sons thrive here, along with hundreds of other kids, we know Pinehurst survived and has made great progress. But, enough for nostalgia: this is not Gerald Ford’s America. If Ford automobiles are made in Mexico, how can public education possibly survive at Lincoln?
Need and Desire. In 1908, our school board forebears obtained the state charter to provide the public educational requirements of the children of this remote corner of Jackson County. The need still exists. People who move here have the option of attending this school, putting their children on a bus, tuitioning them to a private school or home schooling. Those who have chosen Pinehurst put in the energy to make it a successful public school. The state has never withdrawn the charter: Pinehurst students have the right to be educated in their home district.
Tradition and Momentum: Up until 1990 or so, every year the voters in our district gave the thumbs up or down to the budget proposed by the Pinehurst Budget Committee. Pinehurst people always voted: Yea. Since state-wide educational funding equalization was passed, each board has run the school with the slice of the budget pie offered, no matter how small. It has always been enough. Sums rise and fall; enrollment does the same. Whatever the numbers, the community elects board members whose job is to maintain the buildings and grounds and educate the students. Almost everyone who cares wants the district to persist. And our small school” that could,” rolls gleefully on a year-at-a-time. If the district ever consolidates, it will be the decision of the residents, not the state.
Flexibility and Innovation: What has powered Pinehurst through two world wars, the Depression, the rise and fall of timber and ranching, the limitations imposed by land-use planning and every other physical, financial and societal obstacle? Generations of board members and administrators combined sense and strength to accept and accommodate change. In 1975 we were a grade 1-6 school. A few years earlier, the board pared seventh and eighth grades. By 1987 the board reinvented Pinehurst as a K-8 and built the Annex. After an almost 30-year run– because so many families with children moved away– the board approved the transition into a K-5 school adapting to the reality of the school’s enrollment. As situations demand, Pinehurst– like the seven sequoias behind the gym–bends with the wind, but it does not fall down.
State and Federal Funds: Free public education is the law of the land. By statute, any district in Oregon located more than 15 miles from another public school is exempt from mandatory consolidation. Because the building and grounds need care and all the protocols of a public school must be accomplished (regardless of the size of the studentry), the state gives small schools funding for at least 22 elementary students every year no matter how many actually enroll. With that money, we also must pay tuition to Ashland for our high school students who live in district. This arrangement, along with prudent budgeting and the primary commitment to maintain an adequate staff within our means, has proven sufficient to keep the radiators clicking, the non-union staff employed and kids learning in our red school house. Oregon’s legislators have been generous to small, rural school districts which harbor proud, tenacious voters.
Foundation and Community: Even though we pay most of our bills with tax dollars, that cash alone, does not suffice. Each year, since a clutch of parents born in the 19th Century settled into Round Prairie and secured the district charter, community volunteers filled in the needs money can’t buy. With its founding in 1996, the Pinehurst School Foundation concentrated that energy and has supplied the extra, spirited financial boost to make sure our school not only pays for the basics but also provides for enrichments such as outdoor education, music, art, library, media and computer amendments. PSF coordinated the contributions of Greensprings businesses and organizations such as: Green Springs Inn and Cabins, Greensprings Fire and Rescue, BLM, State Forestry, Friends of the Greensprings, Friends of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, Box R Ranch, Pinehurst Inn, Oregon Extension, Lincoln Christian Church and ODOT. The Foundation has also solicited generous grants from the Maughan Foundation, Clifbar Family Foundation, Yvonne Lenart Art Education Foundation and many private donations. And within each of these organizations stood hundreds of friends and neighbors who have rolled up their sleeves to provide our district with their time and treasure.
So, whither Pinehurst? On the evening of May 8th, the budget committee members will gather in the Annex to study the financial blue print the administrative team has been working on for months. They will monkey with the draft document to assure the original charter is fulfilled by providing an appropriate program to meet the needs of our present students. These folks will make sure the staff and expenses have been trimmed commensurate with the expected enrollment without diminishing the quality of the program. They will squirrel away a nest egg of emergency funds and finish up knowing that they have done everything under their control to keep expenditures lower than resources. Having completed due diligence the board will adopt the 109th balanced budget and direct the Administrative Team to carry out the 2017-18 Pinehurst School District calendar. Every day the administrative team will work to steer the ship toward the school board’s intended goals.
All this, so on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, 21st Century, the indomitable Pinehurst children will once again trundle up the cedar-shaded lane to their historic school house, toothsomely happy to greet their teachers where together they will turn to the task of carrying on The Plan.