Fetz, Mudrow say program is too costly to continue

The Estacada School Board has terminated the district’s partnership with the U.S. Forest Service for the Estacada Alternative High School housed at the Timberlake Job Corps.

District Superintendent Howard Fetz and School Board Chairman Rick Mudrow said later that the rationale behind the decision had been mostly financial.

“Our decision ultimately boiled down to finances,” Mudrow said.

The board reached its decision during the Wednesday, Aug. 14, school board meeting.

The Job Corps offers year-round, free educational and vocational training for students ages 16 through 24. It’s administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. Students must apply to get in and live on campus. The Timberlake Job Corps campus is on Mt. Hood National Forest lands.

Fetz explained that for several years every student aged 16 to 21 at the Timberlake Job Corps was counted as an Estacada Alternative High School student unless they had a high school diploma.

Traditionally, only a small percentage of these students actually came from Estacada prior to living on the Timberlake campus.

Students who came to the program from outside of the district brought additional state funding to the Estacada School District through their enrollment.

“Historically, Timberlake has been very profitable for the district, but that’s changed over the last few years,” Mudrow said.

Over the last few years enrollment has been dwindling.

“The profit margin has been decreasing since the early 2000s,” Fetz said.

Mudrow explained that 104 or 105 or so students would have to be enrolled in the Estacada Alternative High School program just to make it “cash neutral.”

He estimated that there are about 50 or 60 students currently enrolled.

Enrollment is not high enough to support the necessary staff to keep the Estacada Alternative High School Program going without running a deficit.

Mudrow said the decision to discontinue the Estacada Alternative High School program at Timberlake Job Corps was “not so much savings as aversion of loss.”

“I think it’s been a very beneficial program,” Fetz said. “It’s unfortunate that the sequestration and the district’s financial challenges have gotten in the way of continuing this program.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Forest Service informed the school board that they’d have to put a cap on enrollment because of sequestration.

A few weeks ago, Forest Service representatives told the school district they were strongly considering severing the partnership in November or December of this year.

Mudrow said that matters would have become much more complicated had the program been discontinued mid-school year. District class sizes could have been altered and laid off Estacada Alternative High School employees would have had a harder time finding another job.

“There were some potential bumps down the road. We felt it was better to control the timing,” Mudrow said.

Fetz and Mudrow indicated the district would make every effort to educate students who live within the Estacada School District who might have otherwise enrolled at Timberlake Job Corps.

Fetz had suggested that the Timberlake Job Corps often had functioned as a sort of “second chance” to get a high school diploma to students who had not achieved one withing their own age group.

For example, when asked what would happen to a 20-year-old Estacada area resident with no high school diploma, Fetz said that the district would still educate the student, probably through a charter program.

Students at the job corps will simply no longer be considered part of the Estacada School District.

District employees who had been working at the Estacada Alternative High School will be those most affected by the decision. Two licensed teachers from the alternative high school will transfer to jobs elsewhere in the district.

“No teacher lost his or her job because of the two teachers coming down. They assumed vacancies,” Fetz clarified.

The rest of the Estacada School District employees working at the alternative high school will be laid off when the decision goes into affect on Sept. 30.

Fetz explained that some district employees worked part-time for the alternative high school and part-time for the district proper. Though these employees will lose their jobs at the alternative high school, they’ll keep their jobs in the district proper.

Fetz mentioned that over the years detractors of the Estacada Alternative High School program had been displeased with the fact that the inclusion of the alternative high school students into the Estacada school district lowered the district’s test scores and graduation rates.

Fetz said the Estacada High School student body has met or exceeded all state averages since 2010, but when bulked with the students from the district’s alternative programs the “test scores don’t look as good.”

Mudrow said test scores were not a factor in the school board’s decision.

Representatives from the Timberlake Job Corps declined to comment for this story.

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