Placating the parents


Superintendent addresses Scenario B controversy

Lake Oswego School Superintendent Bill Korach spoke to parent concerns at the first coordinating council meeting of the school year Friday.

“Some very contentious decisions ... have been made ... and there’s still some very, very meaningful and difficult decisions that the board is going to have to make, but we have a direction and we’re moving in it and it’s working,” he said. “Whether you agree with it or not, the things that we’ve done will save us over $2 million a year.”

Those things are, specifically, numerous changes to the district implemented through Scenario B, a plan approved by the school board that resulted in the closures of three elementary schools — Bryant, Palisades and Uplands — since June 2011.

Korach said such closures were necessary to continue offering low student-to-teacher ratios and maintain sufficient staffing. “You’ll be feeling real good about it when two years from now we still have good class sizes,” he said. “Small, 270-kid elementary schools, where you have to provide all of the support services ... kills you economically when you don’t have the money. When we used to have the money — our community used to be able to give us any amount that they were willing to — those small schools were great. Now, they’re a real disadvantage.”

Korach said this is due to a lack of subsidized capital.

“The state is significantly underfunding our school district,” he said. “I’m not saying that they’re bad people, but we don’t get money from the state to run the schools the way you want.”

LOSD has sought funding elsewhere, heavily relying on both the Lake Oswego School Foundation and a local option levy that allows the district to ask voters to approve additional operating funds for Lake Oswego schools at a rate of $1.39 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Korach said it is imperative that this levy be renewed in November 2013.

“If we were not to pass the local option, that’s a $6 million-plus hit to the district,” he said. “Then you’re in Armageddon planning mode.”

Although surrounding school districts have dealt with state education budget cuts by cutting staff and increasing class sizes, Korach said LOSD can avoid sacrificing staff jobs by facilitating an uptick in student enrollment, which increases not the size of classes, but rather the number of state-budgeted classes.

Oregon’s open enrollment law has made this possible, requiring school districts to let students attend schools in another district as long as the students’ desired district has said it is open to accepting students from that geographic area.

“Any student in these areas could transfer to the school district, bringing their state funding without permission of their home district,” said school board member Patti Zebrowski, after attending the coordinating council meeting. “In addition, any students attending the district that were paying tuition from other districts could transfer under the legislation, bringing their state funding with them and no longer having to pay tuition.

This year LOSD opted to allow all tuition-paying students to become transfer students under the law and opened enrollment to the northern part of Lake Oswego for those homes located in the Portland school district and to a small portion of West Linn-Wilsonville School District adjacent to the city’s southern border.

“It was a very conservative approach — we wanted to see the effects of open enrollment across the state and see how many kids from our small geographic area transferred in,” Zebrowski said. “We only opened our high schools to these areas since there was so much change going on in our middle schools and elementaries this year.”

Yet Korach said the largest boon to district coffers would come from the sale of an elementary school property. Pending results of a Portland State University real estate study, LOSD will sell one of the schools closed in the last two years or reopen one of them and sell another — whichever makes the most economic sense.

“Let’s say you sold Lake Grove and you kept River Grove in operation. You’ve got to make a significant investment in River Grove to bring it up to what Lake Grove, Hallinan, Westridge is,” he said. “Just because it’s the most valuable, you have to weigh what, if you sold that property, you have to do to improve other properties and what the cost of that will be.”

Korach acknowledged the need for additional adjustments in order for Scenario B to be effective in actuality.

“Given our economics, more students is a good thing for us, but more students will require the facilities to take in more students,” he said. “We can put additional classrooms on our existing elementaries. At Hallinan I know where we can put two; I think we can put two at Westridge.”

Korach also recognized that parent outcry against aspects of Scenario B might be justified: “That’s so important for us to know, because there’s some stuff I’m still discovering right now that I had no idea was happening in the district,” he said. “I just ask you to keep working with us and try to understand and get us information when you know we’ve got a problem.”

“My biggest concern right now,” Korach added, “is that we try to pull together and make these things work.”