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Three schools to close; Palisades to go first

In a surprise vote, the school board determined that Palisades will close this year, and Bryant and Uplands in 2012
by: VERN UYETAKE Palisades Elementary School will close at the end of the current school year, according to a decision made Monday evening by the Lake Oswego School Board. The board decided that in 2012 both Bryant and Uplands will close. “What people do need to realize is that this decision is final; the board is unanimous about that,” school board member Linda Brown said. “Hopefully, that will give people some certainty.”

The Lake Oswego School Board voted unanimously Monday night to close Palisades Elementary School at the end of this school year.

For the following year, 2012-13, the board approved adoption of Scenario B that closes Uplands Elementary and Bryant Elementary and reconfigures the two junior high schools (now grades seven and eight) into middle schools (grades six through eight). Bryant will be reconfigured into what will become Waluga Middle School.

There were no real winners in this difficult decision. In the Lake Oswego High School library packed full of parents, students, television cameras and concerned citizens, there was only a smattering of applause when the final gavel came down.

'I am disappointed,' said Denise Smith, parent of an eighth-grader at Lake Oswego Junior High School. 'I think the board wanted to find the best of both worlds, and they are just slowing down the transition. I think in the end this decision will have huge repercussions. I am suspecting more cuts - middle schools will see cuts.'

'No matter what we did, it was going to be painful,' said Bob Barman, school board candidate. 'I feel for the board, I think they did as thoughtful a job as they could possibly have done.'

The district is facing a minimum state budget shortfall of $5.5 million in each of the next two years. This year's budget gap has been nearly bridged thanks to a $2 million donation from the city of Lake Oswego, and a more than $2.1 million commitment from the Lake Oswego School Foundation. The consolidation of the schools in Scenario B was expected to save an additional $1.5 million. The plan approved by the board will save $850,000.

'We are still short more than half a million dollars,' said Michelle Ericson, member of the Consolidation Committee. '(This scenario) to close Palisades is not anything we recommended to the school board. Their decision surprised me.'

But, according to Superintendent Bill Korach Tuesday, the board made the best possible decision that it could make.

'It is very important that the decision to go to Scenario B is phased in so that we can take it in steps and stops. It is the great benefit of all the work of the city and the Foundation ... that we are able to buy this very, very important time to ensure that we have it right.

'This is the biggest change our school district has ever gone through. There are a ton of logistics and a tremendous amount of work to do to be prepared to embrace Scenario B.'

Both citizen's groups, the Reconfiguration Committee and the Consolidation Committee, spent long hours hashing out the various scenarios in order to give the board a thorough and complete look at the available options, and recommended the adoption of Scenario B.

'The board made their decision. I'm fine with it,' said Robert Hunter, Consolidation Committee member. 'We came to do a job, and we did what we were asked to do - we provided the board with enough information to make their decision.'

So starting this fall, the 280 students from Palisades will be divided between Hallinan and Westridge elementary schools.

'We'll start tomorrow to prepare for the students and teachers to come over,' said Steve Mauritz, Hallinan principal.

'We have room for them,' said Scott Lane, Westridge principal. While currently under-capacity, both schools will be full next year. While Palisades teachers will be absorbed by Hallinan and Westridge, Korach has requested extra staffing to help these schools support the additional students.

The bottom line of the decision, which is a version of Scenario A-bridge, is that in year one it will save $.85 million and each year thereafter it will save $2.3 million. A three-year total savings is considered to be $5.45 million.

Scenario B (closing Bryant, Palisades and Uplands at the end of this school year, and moving the sixth grade to the two middle schools) was presumed to save $2.2 million in the first year, $2.3 million each year thereafter, with a three-year savings of $6.8 million.

In the initial vote, board members John Wendland and Linda Brown voted in favor of Scenario B, but were outvoted by Teri Olerich, Bill Swindells and Kurt Sheinin. Swindell's follow-up proposal to close Palisades this year, and then Uplands and Bryant next year, received a unanimous vote.

'In closing Palisades next year, we will keep the student-teacher ratios, we will keep all the programs,' Korach said. 'And, aside from retirement positions that we may not replace, we won't have to reduce staff.'

'(Closing Palisades) is an interim step,' Sheinin said. 'While it is an option that we hadn't really studied, it gives us a longer time frame to put it all together, and has the least amount of staff reductions.'

'This is a very sad decision,' Brown said. 'We will have to move a lot of kids around for not as much money, and Hallinan and Westridge will be very cozy next year. But the north/south boundaries can remain the same, and children will be moving to excellent schools. We are not losing what really matters.

'What people do need to realize is that this decision is final; the board is unanimous about that,' Brown said. 'Hopefully, that will give people some certainty.'