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New UO scholarship targets middle-income students

University of Oregon officials on Thursday announced good news for students who come from middle-income families - a demographic that often loses out on scholarship opportunities.

From Reynolds High School, university Vice Provost Roger Thompson announced that a $5 million alumni gift would provide scholarships for at least 250 Oregon middle-income students.

The Mary Corrigan and Richard Solari Scholarship awards will be for $5,000 per year, and recipients who maintain a 3.0 GPA and take at least 12 credits per term can renew their scholarships for up to four years.

College freshmen enrolling in 2012 and 2013 can apply for the $5,000 scholarships. They must attend all four years of high school in Oregon to qualify. They must also be eligible for a Dean's Scholarship (high school GPA of 3.60). UO tuition and fees will cost $8,190 this year.

The scholarships are open to students from middle-income families - whose families still qualify for financial aid but are not eligible for federal Pell grants.

'I wanted to help Oregonians caught in the middle," said Corrigan Solari, a 1946 UO graduate from Klamath Falls. "I have been acutely aware of the many middle-class parents who have been struggling to finance their children's education. In order to help alleviate the situation, I wanted to establish scholarships for graduates of Oregon high schools so they can attend the University of Oregon. A college degree means a better future for them."

Corrigan Solari's late husband, Richard, was president and chief executive officer of Granite Construction Co. in California. The couple has donated heavily to the university for years.

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Outdoor School gets another financial push

Stanley and Mary Kusaka, Portland parents of a sixth-grader, are making a last-ditch effort to restore Outdoor School from three days to the full six days.

'I am writing to suggest that the fees assessed to families for this program be raised so that everyone can attend for the full week,' Mary Kusaka wrote to district leaders this week. 'Our family would willingly pay $170 to plug the gap and give our son a full week, plus an additional $170 to cover someone else who couldn't afford to pay it (thus $340 total from us); if only half the parents paid this higher fee, it would be enough for all. Others may be able to manage $170, enough to cover their own children. We believe that many families throughout our school district would be willing to pay additional fees to help their children, and other people's children, have a full week of Outdoor School.'

PPS' sixth-graders will attend the three-day Outdoor School for the first time this fall. Supporters' fundraising efforts brought in $40,000 to restore the program but still left a $435,000 gap, according to the district.

Better known by her blogging watchdog pen name 'Zarwen,' Kusaka promises that restoring Outdoor School would bring good karma at a time the district needs it: 'If you would restore the Outdoor School Program, it would bring you a TON of good will in the community,' she says.

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High school redesign could hinder district's future bond plans

Another parent is pitching specific and drastic ways of designing a better bond, something the new school board has yet to discuss.

'PPS will have a hard time passing a bond until it fixes the disaster with high school education and addresses the K-8 disparities,' writes Lainie Block-Wilker, a Laurelhurst mom who helped lead the anti-PPS bond measure fight dubbed 'Learn Now, Build Later.'

'November 2012 seems an unrealistic time to make rational consolidations of smaller poorly performing schools and create a strategic plan.'

She suggests waiting until May 2013, after PPS takes several drastic steps to improve education offerings. Specifically, she suggests: 'cut unnecessary admin not adding to educational outcomes, put staffing toward comprehensive high schools to restore instructional time/curriculum, close Jefferson (offer Middle College without expense of separate campus), and restore Benson to a full 4-yr technical program. '

District spokesman Matt Shelby responds by noting that since early this summer, Superintendent Carole Smith and board members have been meeting with groups across the city that both supported and opposed the May construction bond.

'The suggestions for how to move forward remain diverse but everyone we have talked to understands the tremendous needs our schools have,' he says. 'People are leaning in to the conversation with a willingness to problem solve and that's a good thing.'

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On the school district's election law front

PPS has requested and received an extended deadline, of Oct. 25, to consider how to proceed with the state's charge that several employees violated state election laws regarding the two school funding measures on the May ballot.

In late August, five PPS staff members were each fined $75 for improperly advocating for Ballot Measures 26-121 and 26-122, the district's $548 million construction bond and the local-option levy.

Voters rejected the bond proposal. A complaint to the Oregon secretary of state's office said the PPS staff had violated state law by campaigning for the measures during work hours. The staff members are considering an appeal.