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NCSD may close Riverside Elementary


Alternative high school would also have to relocate students and programs

by: PHOTO BY: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Riverside Elementary School third graders count down from three before heading inside after recess. The school's days may be numbered since a proposed closure will send students to Oak Grove, Concord and the El Puente bilingual program.Riverside Elementary School is under the budget axe to save $450,000 in what promises to be another tough budget season, as announced Thursday at the North Clackamas School Board meeting.

Superintendent Matt Utterback acknowledged that it would be a “hard decision” for the School Board on March 21 to merge Riverside Elementary into neighboring Concord and Oak Grove elementary, sending Riverside’s bilingual program into El Puente Elementary.

The Rex Putnam High School feeder area is being targeted for a school closure, noted Assistant Superintendent Aeylin Summers, because all of the elementary schools in the region between Milwaukie and Gladstone have less than 400 students. Summers tried to put a positive spin on the district halving its number of bilingual opportunities.

“This is a nice opportunity to mass resources for supporting the bilingual model,” she said.

Two years ago the district closed Campbell and Clackamas elementary schools to howls of community protest.

Board member Sam Gillispie said that the district learned from the painful process of closing Campbell and Clackamas to get as much input as possible. Vivian Scott added she didn’t know how else to minimize the pain beside communicating as much as possible.

• A March 6 community meeting is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. at Riverside, 16303 S.E. River Road, Oak Grove. In addition, district leaders will also hold a meeting on Tuesday, March 12, at noon at Riverside for parents and community members who can’t attend a meeting at night. Childcare and Spanish interpreters will be available at both meetings.

• Parent meetings about the proposed plan for school consolidation are planned for 6:30 p.m. on consecutive Tuesdays, March 5 and 12, at New Urban, 1901 S.E. Oak Grove Blvd.

• A public budget hearing takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 7, in the commons on the south campus of Sabin-Schellenberg Center, 14450 S.E. Johnson Road, Clackamas. There will be an opportunity for individuals to address the board regarding the proposals.

• The School Board meeting at Rex Putnam, 4950 S.E. Roethe Road, Oak Grove, with a likely School Board vote on the proposal, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 21.

Fate of New Urban

New Urban High School would also move to the Sabin-Shellenberg Professional Technical Center under the district’s plan to save another $540,000. There, district officials say that students who are in danger of dropping out would have access to programming that shows them a path to productive careers.

The proposed move is similar to the “co-location” of the Sojourner Elementary magnet program at Linwood Elementary that was part of the district reconfiguration two years ago. The buildings in Oak Grove that once housed Sojourner and New Urban would be vacant this summer if the board accepts the latest district plan. The cost savings would come from cutting New Urban administrative staff and building maintenance.

School Board member Kyle Walker suggested that the board should consider imposing a fee on art classes to help generate revenue.

Other cuts possible

District officials are fairly confident that classroom cuts would be avoidable during this budget cycle. The district faces a $7.5 million shortfall next year, assuming the governor can apply savings on public-employee retirement plans to the total.

Hundreds of participants in recent budget forums said they wanted to avoid increasing class sizes, affecting technical education, or art and music classes. Elimination of textbook purchases was a popular option for cuts, as were school consolidations for parts of the district not affecting their family’s own schools.

NCSD officials plan to look under their figurative couch cushions for opportunities such as sale of district property, which was the most popular option in the community survey. One-time transfers from Medicaid and rebates could shore up $1.6 million, and the district could also take out a line of credit for “unforeseen expenditures.”

Open enrollment

On the eve of a state-mandated decision, School Board members voted 6-1 on Thursday to open NCSD borders to Gladstone, Oregon City, Lake Oswego and Riverdale school districts.

Only 50 slots for freshman or sophomores will open, equally divided between Milwaukie and Rex Putnam high schools. Students from West Linn High School boundaries, and the southern parts of Portland Public Schools and the David Douglas School District, will also be invited to apply for the slots.

Utterback called the open-enrollment plan a “conservative approach” to bringing new revenue into the district. He spoke with superintendent in Oregon City and Gladstone for advice and found that they did not see an influx of high-cost, disabled students.

“They were both very clear that the students they received through open enrollment matched their current demographics,” Utterback said.

“There’s a certain amount of risk involved, but I will support this,” said newly appointed board member Daryl Dixon.

Kyle Walker said she voted no because she thought that the district had been rushed to make a decision without enough data to determine whether revenue benefits could outweigh the increased staff time for logistical issues.