Over the last 18 years Bill Pinster has spent thousands of days in dungarees and boots scrambling up and down the foothills of th Cascade Mountains here teaching Cottage Grove high school students the forestry business.
"I know I'll miss it," Pinster said this morning as he sat behind a desk in his new insurance man's uniform of tie, sportjacket and polished wingtips. "You just don't walk away from teaching that long without feeling a twinge," he said.
In a manner of speaking, the graying, 43-year-old former forestry teacher is something of a high school dropout.
Cottage Grove's voters finally accepted a $2.9 million school tax by a 3,327-to-2,068 vote here Tuesday after rejecting it four times. The vote ended seven weeks of a school shutdown that left this southwestern Oregon lumbering city of 6,700 persons as the only one in the nation entering 1977 with a school system closed for lack of funds.
But for Pinster - and for a dozen of the district's teachers and several hundred pupils - the grudging termination of Cottage Grove's taxpayer revolt arrived too late.
"I don't think I'll go back," Pinster said in his new office here. "And if this begins all over again in May I think you'll see a lot more teachers looking somewhere else, too."
The vote here - and similar approval of tax levies in two other rural Oregon school districts, Eagle Point and La Grande which were on the verge of closing for the same reason - kept the schools from being shut down here for the rest of the year.
But it didn't answer a larger question troubling administrators here in Oregon and in many other states: if there is to be a system of local control of the schools, how can it be prevented from becoming the dumping ground for all the pent up grievances and frustrations besetting today's taxpayers?
"That's a problem that probably doesn't have a technological fix," said Fred Jordan, a spokesman for the National League of Cities. In 1969 the league awarded Cottage Grove its "All American City" title, in part for its school program.
Jordan and others who have wrestled with the problem noted that local elections can sometimes end up as the only way for angry taxpayers to vent their frustrations, with local issues sometimes taking on the baggage of unrelated problems.
"There's a taxpayers revolt going on and we're handy," said Verne Duncan, Oregon's superintendent of public instruction. "You can't do much about the national defense budget or the state welfare budget but under our system you sure, by gosh, can do something about the school budget."
Duncan and other officials here are nervous that Cottage Grove's revolt is likely to spread to other districts in the state when next year's school tax levies come up in May for votes.
In most states voters pass no reject school budget increases while leaving a substantial tax base untouched from year to year. If budget fails the school district can always drop back to last year's budget level.
But here in Oregon voters in school districts cast their ballots on all but a minuscule part of each budget. A vote against a district tax levy means the local schools won't have enough to keep operating and that is what happened here.
School officials began the work of ropening the district schools here today and predicted Cottage Grove's 3,300 students would be back in class by Friday.
But they said the effects of the shutdown have been serious both inside and outside the city's school system. Thomas Turnbull, vice principal of Cottage Grove High School, estimated that 75 of the school's 240 seniors won't be back when the school reopens.
"Some of them decided to finish with night courses at the junior college and some transferred to other schools," Turnbull said. Some of the students "were the ones hanging on by a thread anyway and I guess this just was enough to snap it," Turnbull said.
School officials said most students who left were in the upper half of their class. "These were the leaders, the ones whose parents felt every school day was important," Robert Butler, head of the high school [WORD ILLEGIBLE] department, said.
But the real effect of the closure is a long-term one. Nobody knows whether the same process will be repeated when next year's budget comes up in May. A negative vote could touch off what one administrator here called "a mad exodus" from the staff. Such a reaction would be likely to affect the local economy here and the willingness of new industries to move to Cottage Grove, officials predicted.
"We won this round but there's a little black cloud up there," Turnbull said. "It's going to get bigger if this starts once more. No one wants to go through all this all over again."