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Closures are up in the air

Decision will now be made by the school board on April 25

Decisions on school closures in Lake Oswego will be pushed back to April 25 in order to study two other scenarios that would close either one or two schools instead of the three schools recommended by a parent committee in December. Originally, a final decision was expected on April 5.

Though a recommendation naming Bryant, Palisades and Uplands elementary schools had been planned for Monday night, the consolidation committee asked for more time to study the option of closing only Bryant and Uplands. Under that scenario, sixth graders would still go to middle schools. The configuration committee has suggested the scenario knowing that it would involve less program sacrifice, said committee member Robert Hunter.

The school board, however, asked the committee to consider another scenario that only closes one south side school, with the intent to close two more during the 2012-2013 school year and move to the 6-8 configuration.

The committee agrees that closing three schools is workable but has not reached consensus yet on how to do it well.

While the news of studying less aggressive closure models came as a pleasant surprise to a number of parents in attendance at the meeting, some grew more concerned at the process slowing down.

'I feel like I'm just as passionate about class sizes and programs as some people are about their school buildings,' said Tammy Amborn, who urged the board not to fall behind schedule and to move forward on closing either two or three schools.

Siouxsie Jennett, a Forest Hills parent, implored the board to be fiscally conservative and make the tough decision by closing three schools.

'I fear that we are a victim of our own success,' she said referring to promises from the LOSD Foundation and the city. 'If we prolong this for another year, we have the potential to really fracture this, really scar this.'

Other parents asked that the board minimize disruption to students' lives by moving as few as possible.

Closing Bryant, Palisades and Uplands should still keep class sizes at a 1 to 27 ratio and maintain five full-day kindergartens and one Spanish immersion half-day kindergarten.

The committee had trouble, however, finding enough space for all of the district's preschool and pre-K programs, which include early Spanish and Mandarin language immersion classes. Specifically, the south side would be disadvantaged. The problem is the district doesn't decide how many classes there will be each year until enrollment.

Having the chance to wait until more detailed 2010 U.S. census information is available may help, said Superintendent Bill Korach.

Because the district has promoted its pre-K programs and language immersion, committee member Becky Saas said that cutting the programs 'would definitely be received as a take away.' She also questioned, 'Would removing them give the perception that the district is less desirable?'

Korach said that the district could keep schools open to maintain program space, but with a shortage of resources, eventually the district will be forced to cut programming anyway.

Saas said that the group is discussing the value of different programs but has not come to agreement.

Since a decision to close any schools has yet to be made, Korach modeled staffing for next year without the savings from the closures. His recommendation then is to cut four positions at the elementary level, five from the junior highs, eight from the high schools and two from special services.

Korach called the recommendation a 'starting point.'

'This is an optimistic scenario,' Korach told the board. 'The staffing model is based on assumptions regarding economic variables … When those variables shift, we'll come back and adjust this because we really don't want to cut teaching staff.'

Anticipating a $13 million shortfall over two years, Korach decided to split the loss equally over the biennium instead of splitting it at $5 million and $8 million, respectively, according to what the state has promised for the next two years.

In addition to the staff cuts, Korach assumed a $2 million donation from the LOSD Foundation and $2 million in assistance from the city of Lake Oswego in order to fill the funding gap.

'Obviously if the school board decided to consolidate schools those dollars would go to staffing,' said Korach.

Closing three schools is estimated to save $1.5 million from the salaries of custodial staff, secretaries and principals, as well as facility and maintenance costs.

Contract negotiations with the teachers' union are also ongoing and could play into the final staffing model for 2011-2012. The district also recently began offering a retirement incentive that requires staff to give notice by April 11.