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School panel grapples with declining enrollment

The Lake Oswego School District should further analyze the overall community impact before closing or combining schools to solve its declining enrollment problem, according to an ad hoc committee report.

The configuration committee, which was charged with developing a cost/benefit plan with various school scenarios, presented its findings to the school board Monday.

'There are many moving parts to this and the issue is bigger and more complex,' said committee member Rebecca Gilbertson. 'We're looking at more issues than (closure). It's emotional.'

Committee members met four times with Director of Finance Stuart Ketzler to establish preliminary costs for closing one elementary or combining the junior high schools or high schools.

Officials believe configuration changes would help to solve declining enrollment in its elementary schools, a dip that began in 1996. The district's schools would absorb the population of the closed school, and resources would be distributed accordingly.

While the district doesn't plan to make any changes for several years, officials felt it was necessary to begin discussing potential changes.

'I look at this as a strategic roadmap for the district, the first of many milestones,' Gilbertson said.

The committee compiled various scenarios to give the district a variety of options, but it did not make a recommendation. Its report also included a long list of cautions, perspectives and suggestions.

Committee members, who will continue to assist the district, agreed that professional analysis is needed in the future.

'These are emotional issues and there's no easy way to do this,' said committee member Tim Breedlove. 'A lot of other issues might come up in looking at how this might play out.'

The committee's list of suggestions (written anonymously) included working with the city of Lake Oswego, researching the possibility of affordable housing, talking to other districts with a similar enrollment problem and working openly with the community to reach a conclusion.

'The best-selling process is one that starts early and is transparent,' the report said.

The report included the following findings:

CLOSING AN

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Initial one-time closing cost: $30,000 to $50,000.

Ongoing costs: $10,000 to $30,000 per year.

Net savings: Approximately $450,000 in year one; Approximately $500,000 in each following year.

According to the report, program impacts at the elementary level would be nominal due to the homeroom structure of the program. Fewer schools would simplify the scheduling of specialists, but the basic programs would remain unaffected. However, the space available for 'alternative use' may be cut.

The district would have to make several boundary adjustments to distribute students to the other schools.

The district receives about $160,000 in Title 1 federal funds for Rivergrove Elementary School. If Rivergrove, the smallest school, were to close, it could reduce the amount of government funding.

Palisades Elementary was closed in the late 80s, and many people assume it will close again, Gilbertson said.

One committee member wrote that 'closing an elementary school in the future is inevitable.'

COMBINING

HIGH SCHOOLS

Initial one-time cost for moving and integration: Approximately $80,000 to $100,000.

This is a rough estimate to include remodeling costs and other infrastructure changes.

Ongoing costs: Approximately $85,000 annually.

In order to transport students to the new combined school, a minimum of seven new bus routes would be created.

Net savings: None in the first year; $1.7 million in each following year.

The new high school would include four administrators instead of three and a complete combination of all programs, including sports and other extra curriculars.

'Combining high schools would ensure adequate student demand for a diverse and rich, yet economical, educational program and would provide increased consistency in program offerings and class sizes among all high school students,' according to the report.

The larger local high school, Lake Oswego, has a capacity of 1,746 students while the overall 9-12 population is about 2,300 students (Lakeridge's capacity is 1,680).

Based on current enrollment trends, the district does not expect the overall high school population to fall below 2,000 students until the 2012-13 school year.

The committee also considered the impact of a longer school day or the use of other buildings as a 'branch' of the high school. They also took a look at its impact on athletics.

'Sports participation … especially at the varsity level, would also diminish, though the teams fielded would be very competitive and at the highest level of state competition,' according to the report.

One committee member wrote that he or she did not believe one high school would lessen the quality of education.

'One of the benefits of one bigger high school could be less divisiveness and more community,' another member added.

COMBINING JUNIOR

HIGH SCHOOLS

Initial one-time cost of moving and integration: Approximately $60,000 to $80,000.

Ongoing costs: Approximately $100,000 annually.

This is a rough estimate to include remodeling costs and other infrastructure changes

Net savings: None in the first year; approximately $650,000 in each following year.

The new junior high school would include three administrators instead of two and a complete combination of all programs, including sports and other extra curriculars.

'Combining junior high schools would ensure adequate student demand for a diverse and rich, yet economical, educational program and would provide increased consistency in program offerings and class sizes among all junior high school students,' according to the report.

A consolidation of junior high schools would only occur with the consolidation of the two high schools, because a larger high school student body could create a larger junior high school student body by requiring a 7-9 school (or could make one junior high unavailable).

The committee also looked into converting one high school into a junior high school.