509-J rejects reconfiguration for next year


by: Photo By Susan Matheny - Over 100 teachers and other community members showed up at the Monday night school board meeting to weigh in on several issues.

   The idea of reconfiguring 509-J elementary schools has been put on hold for a year, so board members can gather more information and weigh the options.
   The proposal was to put kindergarten through second grades at Buff Elementary, and third through fifth grades at Madras Elementary. Westside Elementary would have housed a new Willow Creek Community High School and other district programs.
   In a unanimous 5-0 vote, board members decided not to approve a reconfiguration for the 2007-08 school year, but left the door open to reconsider the idea the following year.
   The board room was packed to overflowing April 9, with teachers and others wanting to air views on school reconfiguration, teacher contract negotiations, and controversy over the hiring of a new athletic director/assistant principal.
   On the reconfiguration issue, each board member explained his or her rationale.
   "The plan has a lot of merits, but I can't support the plan," said board chair Steve Earnest. "Our greatest enemy is growth and I think if we wait one year we'll be in a better situation to make a sound decision."
   Earnest listed several objections to making such a major change right now: it would be very costly, the district needs to solve contract bargaining with teachers first, and perhaps the same good points of the plan could be accomplished at the existing schools.
   "I don't think we'd be seeing this (proposal) at all if not for the siting of Willow Creek School," Earnest added.
   He was also concerned about going from three to only two elementary schools, when enrollment growth is predicted. "Two years later we could be bulging at those two buildings and look foolish," Earnest warned.
   Board member Julie Quaid, who served on the facilities planning committee to prepare for growth, emphasized that reconfiguration would take the focus away from the overcrowding at Warm Springs Elementary -- which already has five modular classrooms.
   During tours of Buff and Madras elementaries she also saw how many things, from kitchens to bus loading areas, that would have to be changed. "It would be expensive," she said.
   Board member Jeff Sanders recalled how unsettling it was when the district went to a middle school concept and opened Jefferson County Middle School. "And now we're talking about another reconfiguration?" he said.
   Board member Mary Jo Deuel said she was pleased the public seemed willing to consider different ideas, but asked, "Is there any other place we could put WCCHS?"
   That was also the sticking point for board member Lyle Rehwinkel. "This whole thing was driven by WCCHS, and I would not support it going into Westside Elementary. We should look at putting it at the middle school," he stated.
   Earnest agreed, saying there were options the board needed to explore about the siting of WCCHS.