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Butte Falls school officials fear cuts

BUTTE FALLS - With its superintendent retiring this year, this tiny school district has been shaken up by the possibility that three key positions - almost 10 percent of its workforce - could be eliminated next year because of budget problems.

Superintendent Clay Dunlap, 63, announced he will retire July — after serving in that position for two years.

"It's just time for retirement," he said.

In a reorganization and cost-cutting move, the district wants the future superintendent to also assume the role of principal at both the elementary and high schools. Dunlap, who also fills in as teacher, is principal at the high school only.

Two elementary teachers could lose their jobs as the district braces for cuts resulting from the state's $815 million shortfall.

Out of the district's 35 employees, 16 are teachers.

In an annual budget of $2.3 million, the district anticipates losing at least $170,000 next year, depending on what happens in Salem.

Elementary Principal Scott Benninghof hopes the governor and Legislature come through with extra funding that might save his job and the jobs of the second- and fourth-grade teachers.

"We've done all the yelling and screaming we can," he said. "We just hope they (lawmakers) make the right decisions."

Benninghof's name has been put forward as one possibility for the superintendent position, but he said he's not interested.

Parent Melanie Rodgers said the school board is moving too fast in considering the termination of three positions.

"They just went 'boom, boom, boom' and made these cuts," she said.

While she sympathizes with the financial plight of the district, Rodgers thinks other solutions could be considered, such as making coaching a volunteer position.

She also realizes the budget problems are being faced by school districts throughout the state.

"I think we need to go higher than our little board and make our voices be heard beyond just this area," she said. "Our children are our future, but we can't get enough money for their education."

The loss of a principal is especially disconcerting for Rodgers.

"Mr. 'B' (Benninghof) is the kind of figure I want my children to go to if they have concerns," she said.

School board director Robert Lyon said the district spends 82 percent of its budget on salaries and has very little choice but to cut positions.

"If the money's not there, there is nothing else we can do about it," he said.

The board was contractually obligated to notify staff members that they face layoffs before March, said Lyon.

"We're just getting set for whatever way we have to go," he said.

With the loss of two teachers, the elementary school will combine first and second grades as well as third and fourth grades.

Lyon said combining the grades still means that only about 25 students will meet in the same class.

Butte Falls' decision to have the superintendent assume the role of principals is nothing new in Jackson County.

At Prospect School District, Don Alexander has been superintendent and principal of the high school, middle school and elementary school.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail