Closing Gales Creek school could cost, not save, money

Closing a school should be the very last option a school district considers, not the first.

As we all know, the Forest Grove School District is facing a budget shortfall of $10.7 million.

One of the options put forth to close the gap is to close Gales Creek Elementary School and potentially move those children to Dilley Elementary School.

As a resident of Gales Creek and the parent of one child attending Gales Creek now and one who will attend in the fall of 2012, I strongly oppose closing the school for many reasons, including the impacts to my children's educational experience and the serious repercussions it would have for our rural community.

Even more, though, I oppose it because at its most optimistic, it would take care of only 2.9 percent of the shortfall, and at its worst, it could actually end up costing the district money.

As an Oregonian and citizen of Forest Grove, I also think there are larger reasons to strongly question this closure as a savings measure.

Busing children all the way from Gales Creek to Dilley would certainly increase transportation costs, and early estimates have put that number at potentially $54,000 per year.

Yet the district has indicated those costs aren't a big concern for them because the state pays 75 percent of all transportation costs.

For Oregonians, those costs should be a concern, though, because those costs don't go away - they just get pushed to all Oregonians to cover the expense. As Oregon taxpayers, are we okay with our tax dollars being used to pay for higher gas prices rather than for teachers or education?

I also question whether there's any long-range vision if closing the school is one of the first options considered.

There's a strong chance that Gaston schools won't be able to continue past this year. What happens if Gaston closes and those children get moved into Dilley?

Are the Gales Creek children going to get moved yet again? Also, if redistricting is likely to happen within the next few years anyway, will that change the equation yet again?

What if times get good again and there's future expansion in outlying areas? Are Forest Grove taxpayers going to get asked to fund yet another bond measure to expand some other school because they closed Gales Creek? There are simply too many questions that require serious deliberation, and I'm concerned that the larger context is being ignored in favor of get-it-done-quick decision making.

A short-term fix could end up costing all Forest Grove citizens more money in the long run.

Of course, something has to be done to close this enormous budget gap. If shuttering a school immediately to save money is a requirement, I believe a far wiser option would be to close Joseph Gale Elementary during construction and send blocks of grades to nearby schools.

Extra space currently exists in close by schools to house them, and it would not require a long redistricting phase. I believe it would also be far safer for the Joseph Gale students, too. I've been to Joseph Gale Elementary, walked through the parking lot with nails and screws lying around, and seen the heavy equipment working right outside the doors. Honestly, I'm shocked that it's even open during construction.

Either way, closing a school should be the very last option a school district considers, not the very first. The impacts to the children are very real - if Gales Creek closes and kids go to Dilley, then almost 350 children and their families will be affected in some way.

At the very least, this decision should not be rushed through in a matter of months. I strongly urge the Forest Grove school board and superintendent to step back and take more time to consider the larger impacts of closing Gales Creek Elementary.

- Corrie Bates lives in Forest Grove.