Sojourner school remains in limbo after a failed attempt to merge with Concord
The North Clackamas School District gave the Sojourner magnet school more time to find a new home and spared two programs slated for the chopping block at Sabin-Schellenberg Career and Technical Center, but those were the only surprises in a depressingly predictable evening of school closures and program cuts Thursday night.
The school board approved closing Clackamas and Campbell elementary schools and shuttering the Sojourner building. They also increased fees for drama, music and speech electives, and reduced high school graduation requirements.
District administration had proposed moving Sojourner into the Concord Elementary building, but were unable to settle on how such a move would work, since Sojourner has such a unique curriculum. One proposal included housing Sojourner in the Concord building while keeping its instructional program separate from Concord's conventional elementary classes. Instead, the board voted unanimously to follow a last-minute suggestion by the district to evaluate other feeder schools in the Putnam High area where Sojourner might move and present findings by the first board meeting in May.
The district suggested closing Campbell and Clackamas elementary schools during their original budget-cut proposal in February.
'It's sad, it really is-there's been a school there since 1948 and there's been an educational building in the area since the 1800s,' said Clackamas Principal Charles Foote, who was among the hundreds in attendance. 'It's a wake-up call to our public since this is not closing failing schools but schools that have been recognized by the state as Outstanding.'
Some school board members referred to the district's exploration of a local bond and hoped that voters would help turn around the financial situation locally and in Salem.
'I hope that in a not too distant future we're going to have conversations about what we're going to add back,' said School Board Member Cheryl Myers.
Many parents and teachers put in one final bid to save classes before the board's vote to cut six programs at Sabin. The eight-year-old cosmetology program at the career and technical center saw the largest array of proponents, including students, teachers and a downtown Portland cosmetology school owner.
'Cosmetologists are generally not unemployed,' said Sabin teacher Lisa Hall. 'During these difficult times, hair salons are getting busier (and) beauty school enrollments are increasing. Most of my students are the first in their families to further their education past high school.'
Due to an allocation of two additional full-time equivalent positions, computer assisted design and cosmetology will remain, but the cosmetology program will be reduced to one teacher from its current 2.5 full-time equivalent positions.
A board vote to save all the programs at Sabin would have forced the other high schools to make more cuts. The high schools will have about a 31-to-1 student-teacher ratio, and Sabin will have about a 25-to-1 ratio.
Interior design, fashion design, information technology and building trades will be cut from Sabin.
The 15 remaining programs at Sabin would match the Clark County Skills Center in Washington state and remain at a higher number of accredited programs than Benson High School in Portland, both career training centers.
The board voted 6-1 to add a $25 fee to the traditionally free drama, music and speech electives.
'I'm not persuaded that we have provisions in place for those students who are too ashamed to admit that they can't afford it,' said Board Member Lee Merrick, who tried to amend the motion so that the 40 percent of NCSD students who are on free and reduced lunch would get an automatic waiver.
The board unanimously passed a staff recommendation to reduce high school graduation requirements from 25 to 24 credits.
The Sojourner saga
Less than two months ago, the district recommended that Sojourner consolidate with Concord Elementary, saying that there wasn't enough room in Concord's building to house separate programs.
While facilitating negotiations between representatives of the two programs, the district found that there was feasibility for Sojourner to share the Concord building's gymnasium, cafeteria and hallways, allowing the programs to remain separate.
Concord has 20 classrooms, and each program could have controlled 10 under the district's first revised recommendations. The district would save money on upkeep of the former Sojourner building and by consolidating the two schools' administrative staffs, although it has not yet determined whether the Sojourner principal and school secretary would remain.
There was less agreement, however, on how the proposed merger would take place, even if the process were extended over the course of several years. After negotiations faltered for the second time, the district was forced to revise its recommendations again.
'The only thing that we have decided on as a group was that we will have a half-hour lunch instead of an hour lunch,' Alikée Speer, a Concord parent liaison to the negotiations, told the board.
Superintendent Tim Mills had hoped that the two schools, seeing cultures with some similar attributes, would find a way to pull parents and teachers together.
'Through the comments that have ensued…we still believe that this is an important move, but we feel that we can go back and review,' Mills said.
Now that the board has voted to close Sojourner's building, uncertainty remains not only for the magnet program, but also for every other school in the Putnam feeder system. Worries now abound as to what would happen if Sojourner encountered similar problems at other schools.
'Don't keep pounding on a square peg to make it fit into a round hole,' said Board Member Rein Vaga. 'If we get to a point where the differences seem insurmountable, I would hope that Sojourner apply to the district as a charter school.'
REX PUTNAM HIGH FEEDER SYSTEM
Alder Creek Middle School
Feeder elementary schools:
•Oak Grove Elementary
•Sojourner (located in area, serves entire district)
•View Acres Elementary