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Funding lets Lake Oswego district to take fresh look at closing schools

Committee ponders different budget-fix scenario

As the money rolls in - from the city, the Lake Oswego School District Foundation and the state - and the budget gap continues to shrink, the urgency to close three schools in the Lake Oswego School District is deserving of just one more look. At least that is what the school board felt at Tuesday night's meeting.

Following the Consolidation Committee's lengthy presentation and final recommendation to adopt Scenario B, and close Palisades and Uplands elementary schools and reconfigure Bryant, the school board asked the panel to go back to the drawing board one more time.

The board wants to look at closing one south side school as a stand alone, an end strategy, not as a bridge to Scenario B, and maintain the K-6 configuration that is currently in place.

The Consolidation Committee has spent months in emotional meetings crunching numbers and redistricting students. In some cases, committee members voted to close their own children's schools.

Along with Scenario B, they considered Scenario B modified: Close two schools, one on the north and one on the south side.

And Scenario A: Close one school as a bridge to Scenario B or B modified.

The committee admitted that Scenario A's temporary fix was 'confusing,' as it would mean changing boundaries two years in a row, and, in some cases, require students to attend two schools in two years.

'Scenario A does not seem to take care of the initial reason we were looking at school closures as it does not save the district enough money,' said Michelle Erickson, committee member during her presentation. 'The committee wonders if the monetary situation is not as dire as originally stated.'

And that may be the case. The school district recently received word from the state Joint Ways and Means Committee that K-12 funding would be $5.7 billion for the 2011-13 biennium. This will decrease the district's biennium shortfall from $13 million to $11 million, or $5.5 million for each year. That is down from the anticipated $6.5 million.

In addition, the city of Lake Oswego approved a one-time $2 million contribution to the schools.

Plus, the LOSD Foundation donations are off to a record start with nearly $2 million in donations already collected.

If the school board should vote to approve Scenario B, and close the three schools, that adds an additional $1.5 million to the coffers.

While the school board will hear next week how much the newest scenario - permanently closing one school - will save, it is complicated by issues surrounding the north/south boundaries.

'I suggest that we get two proposals,' board member John Wendland said. 'One option is with north/south boundaries changed, and one option with north/south boundaries remaining restricted.'

There are still a myriad of variables that keep the budget a moving target, including compression from the local option levy, employee contract negotiations and student census numbers.

And when Superintendent Bill Korach presented Phase 3 of the Strategic Planning Recommendation, he reminded the board and the crowd that whether or not the schools are consolidated, there will still be reductions in staff.

'The board wants to make sure that all of the possible options are well considered and they didn't ask the committee to consider this option,' said Korach.

'The option is a kind of 'stand alone' closure. If you were to close one school and that one school closure could last for a couple of years, what school would they recommend closing?

'What they asked for before was closing one school as a bridge to closing three.'

'I think it is smart for the board to have every option on the table that's possible. So it doesn't signal that's where they're headed, what it signals is they want to make sure, as these things continue to evolve, that every option has been well thought through by the committee,' said Korach.

The school board's decision-making process on consolidation is:

• Wednesday, April 20, 6 p.m., Lake Oswego High School library

School board review of Consolidations Committee's suggestions on closing one school; public hearing on the school closures

• Monday, April 25, 7 p.m., Lake Oswego High School cafeteria

School board decision on school closures

Reporter Barb Randall contributed to this story.