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Superintendent tells S.E.: Raise enrollment, and keep all schools open

New option still presents challenges to parents

As reported in a headline story in the May BEE, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Vicki Phillips first identified Westmoreland's Llewellyn Elementary as a school she wanted to close, for budgetary reasons--and then, after numerous complaints from residents of Inner Southeast, she withdrew that recommendation.

Instead, she said, since ONE school needed to close in the neighborhoods feeding Cleveland High, she would give residents a chance to specify which one it should be. THE BEE speculated at the time that pitting neighborhood against neighborhood might not resolve the issue, leading to the Superintendent eventually making the decision herself.

Two meetings, dubbed 'community conversations', were set in June for representatives from each affected neighborhood to meet publicly in Inner Southeast and discuss the issue. An immediate problem arose: The meetings, at the Sellwood Middle School gym, were to be on the first and third Wednesday evenings of June, the very same dates that SMILE and some other neighborhoods in the area hold their regularly-scheduled meetings. That meant that the elected neighborhood association members of some of the affected neighborhoods would not be able to attend, although an 'official neighborhood representative' was supposed to be included.

However, in the case of the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League neighborhood association (SMILE), one Board member, Theresa Dunbar, took it upon herself to skip the scheduled SMILE General Public Meeting to attend the schools meeting, and then report back to the SMILE Board, which she did on June 21st.

She observed that 'advocates for all the schools in our group are really excellent,' and then went on to announce that Superintendent Phillips had sent word to the local meeting that there was one way residents could ensure that NONE of the local cluster of schools would have to close: Specifically, by a rise in enrollment to the minimum benchmark of at least 400 students in each school.

Duniway School's enrollment is 450; Llewellyn and Grout elementary schools stand at about 300 students at present, but enrollments have been trending upward, as more and more young families move into Inner Southeast. Some adjustment of the boundaries served by each school could help realign the existing enrollment and direct future enrollments. Lewis in Woodstock might realign its boundaries eastward to help relieve overcrowding in schools further east.

While some residents may be stoic about school closings, Theresa reported that the impact of closing a school building reaches further than some may expect; it has a substantial negative effect on local businesses. The QFC market in Westmoreland is reported on record as estimating that closing Llewellyn's building would reduce their business by about 10%.

The dialogue process is not ended, but Inner Southeast residents at least now have a potential way to work together to keep their schools open, rather than to battle each other to keep their school open at the cost of another school. Each school now has the goal of increasing its enrollment to at least the 400 student level.