by: PHOTO BY: BRETT SMITH OF ROOT PHOTOGRAPHY - Like many students at New Urban High School, Tia LaPine (currently a junior) transferred in the middle of the year. She says she's found a home at New Urban since getting there last spring.Superintendent Matt Utterback on Thursday surprised more than 100 people who were at Rex Putnam High School to protest school-closure proposals by announcing alternative plans to balance the North Clackamas School District budget.

Utterback said he appreciated the “outpouring of support” for Riverside Elementary (proposed for consolidation into Concord and Oak Grove elementary schools) and New Urban High School (whose students could have been sent to the Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center).

by: PHOTO BY: BRETT SMITH -  Science teacher Kirstan Fengler (from left) leads students Ron Sloan, Kevin Peterson and Jonathan Carreira in the New Urban High School courtyard building chicken coops for a project period. This photo was taken just a few months ago, and already the eggs are hatching.New Urban and district staff began meeting on Friday to discuss ways that the school could remain at its location and become more efficient.

“We can create a win-win situation,” Utterback said.

Meanwhile, the district is forming a District Boundary Committee that will be asked to recommend by Feb. 1, 2014, a school for closure in the Putnam elementary feeder system. Utterback acknowledged this new plan would create uncertainty throughout several elementary schools in the Oak Grove region over the next year. In the meantime, he said, staff cuts will be felt at every school in the district.

The district is expecting a $5.2 million shortfall during the next school year to maintain current service levels, and Utterback considers it too risky to rely on PERS savings that are likely to be challenged in court. To restore school days that were cut and create a 5 percent fund balance to “provide insurance in an emergency,” it would require $13.5 million, which doesn’t take into account replacing hundreds of teachers that have been cut over the past few years.

Entering the sixth year of budget shortfalls, the district started a process of identifying potential cuts in August, Utterback noted. In January, more than 1,000 participating community members identified their top five most preferred options for potential cuts, and school closures were No. 4 after selling property, eliminating math-textbook purchases and cutting additional school days.

“We looked under every rock and pebble,” Utterback said.

The district could cut more school days, but that would mean further reductions in instructional time for students, and pay for teachers.

“This budget would continue to compound our problems,” Utterback said.

North Clackamas School Board members had heard from many Riverside parents who argued that closing Concord would be a better option. Facing community outcry on Riverside and about a possible move of New Urban, the School Board already had delayed its decisions until April 4.

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