Fixing boundaries, school closures adding up to headaches for district
Going from nine elementary schools down to six schools has been touted as a way to save between $2.1 million to $2.3 million annually for the Lake Oswego School District, but the pursuit of savings may leave the remaining students shortchanged.
Over the last few months, the district administration and a south-side boundary committee have come to agreement that there are not enough classrooms in the district to fit the existing population with room for small anomalies and projected growth. With the approved new configuration, the south side would take the brunt of three elementary school closures over a two-year period.
If it follows through on a school board decision made last spring, the district will be left with six elementary schools. Palisades closed its doors this year, and Bryant will be repurposed as part of the Waluga Middle School campus. Uplands, on the north side, will be closed. Also, sixth-graders will be moving to the junior highs in new 6-8 middle schools.
Because the schools on the north side of the lake have bigger buildings than the schools on the south side, the south side will be down two to three classrooms if Bryant closes, according to Financial Director Stuart Ketzler. The estimate assumes moderate growth in the city of Rivergrove, which has seen new housing developments hit the market since last year's decision to close schools.
Mark Bachman, a Westridge parent on the south-ide boundary committee, met with 16 of the 20 members of last year's consolidation committee. He said the pressure to save $2.3 million caused committee members to vote in favor of closing three schools. Bachman runs the 'I on LOSD' page on Facebook and has been following the issue closely since last year.
'$2.3 (million) is no longer real,' he said, noting the district likely won't be able to save as much as it had hoped.
Another issue that came up last year during the consolidation committee meetings - course parity between Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools - has only complicated the discussion.
'I wish the presentation of those issues was better last year because these are affecting us now,' said Bachman.
At a Monday meeting in the Lakeridge High School library, the school board will hear options for solving the capacity issue from the south side committee and from Superintendent Bill Korach.
Korach said he feels it is his job to provide options that the south-side committee was limited from giving. He will give other 'viable options,' he said, not necessarily the 'best' recommendation.
'I wouldn't say any of the possibilities are locked in. ... There are pluses and minuses to all of the possibilities that we're looking at. It's not something that there is strong consensus around,' he said.
The board will hold a public hearing at its April 23 meeting in the LOHS cafeteria, and it will vote on south-side boundaries on April 25, again at LOHS.
Option 1: Reopen Palisades
The south side committee's first recommendation is that the district re-open Palisades Elementary School.
Opening Palisades would cost about $800,000 annually, but it would add 19 classrooms to the south side.
The committee suggested that the extra classrooms at Palisades could house an expanded language immersion program, which the board has tentatively agreed to support if adequate space can be found.
Option 2: Flexible boundary between River Grove and Lake Grove
The committee will also present a second option of making the boundary between River Grove and Lake Grove elementaries 'flexible,' but sticking by the original decision to close Palisades along with Bryant and Uplands.
Within the flexible boundary, River Grove elementary students, who currently live in the north part of the attendance area, can attend Lake Grove for elementary school, while still attending Waluga and Lakeridge for secondary schools. Currently, there are 67 children living in that area.
The option addresses a fast-growing River Grove neighborhood, and it would eventually get those students back to Lakeridge, which would help maintain parity in the student population and course offerings with Lake Oswego High School.
There are two extra classrooms on the north side at Lake Grove, but they are targeted for a language immersion program on a space available basis, said Ketzler.
This option is very low cost. He estimates that there is the potential for $15,000 in additional busing costs for an added route.
If there is no growth in any grade cohorts, it could work, he said. But after mining the data of 20 years of growth trends, Ketzler said that no growth has only happened once. So, if there is any growth the district is back to looking at portables, he said.
Option 3: Changing the north-south boundary
In order to alleviate some capacity issues and balance the student population between Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools, the administration is considering uncoupling elementary and secondary boundaries.
'To have elementary school boundaries that aren't perfectly aligned with secondary boundaries helps us to try to get a better distribution of students in available classroom space,' said Korach. 'That idea opens up more options for us ... Once you say that you are willing to do that, then there is more than one way to do that.
'If we get all this on the table for the board it may change people's thinking. At least it will cause people to look at a different way of defining the problem,' he said.
If the school board likes that option, it may choose to call back both the north and south side boundary committees for a second opinion, added Korach.
Though Bachman said that not all committee members agree with him, in his opinion, the north-south boundary is 'hand-cuffing' the district from a more feasible solution. 'I'm frustrated with the north-south boundary,' said Bachman, who has lived here for nine years.
'We've got a great school system. The amount of infighting over the last two years has just been disappointing. We're so divided by that damn line.'
Bachman added, 'Find the kid a seat and put him in it regardless of the boundary.'
However, even with a boundary redraw, the capacity with three elementary schools closed will leave little room for any growth.
Option 4: Portables
If Palisades, Bryant and Uplands all closed, 'it would make things very tight at all of the schools if there were no portables,' said Ketzler. 'It would likely be required at either River Grove and/or Lake Grove.'
Recent development in Rivergrove is great news, said Korach, but it challenges the capacity in the long-term.
The district has begun the process for siting portable classrooms at River Grove to make up for the lack of classrooms after the closures. Two portables would provide four additional classrooms and cost about $100,000 to $110,000, according to recently updated figures.
At first no one in the committee was a fan of using portables at River Grove, but eventually a small contingent developed that supported the portables with conditions, said Bachman.
Though the administrators agreed that the portables could have specialized uses, such as music, computers, TAG or extended care, rather than a homeroom, parents still wanted a guarantee that the district would pursue adding a new wing of classrooms onto River Grove.
'It is way too early in the process,' said Korach.
In the end, the committee consensus was not to support the portables.
However, the school board has already tentatively approved the portables, and Korach explained that the school district needs to begin city permitting and other planning.
'You have to start the process much sooner than you might think to be able to have the option,' he said. 'You have to cover your bases.'
The board could still choose not to use portables at a later time, he said.
Other options: A 'laundry list'
'We went through a laundry list of things before the two options,' said Bachman.
Options included: Using only part of Palisades for a pre-K and language immersion center, removing pre-K everywhere, removing extended care and asking families to volunteer to be bused to Hallinan, where there is one extra classroom.
The committee also looked at using six classrooms on the Bryant campus, which will be empty, but all options were ruled out.
First, parents didn't like the ideas of having elementary students on a middle school campus, said Bachman, 'even though they'd be physically sectioned off.' And secondly, 'parents want one-stop shopping.'
For example, it would have been difficult to align schedules so that parents could drop off their kindergarten children at one school and then still make it in time to another school to drop off their first through fifth grade children.
Additionally, it would give south side students an unequal educational experience compared to the north side students.
Bachman suggested keeping Uplands open, which is on the north side of the lake, and redrawing boundaries for the whole district; however, the suggestion is outside of the south side committee's charge. His reasoning is that reopening Palisades will cost $50,000, while closing Uplands has about $60,000 price tag. He questioned whether it would it be worth it to gather all the books, smart boards, and other materials that have been redistributed to other schools and re-open Palisades, while a tear-down and re-cataloging of resources is happening at Uplands.
As previously reported in the Review, the district administration did not account for students transferring out of River Grove, many of them to Bryant. However, it did look at transfers during earlier planning for school closures, said Superintendent Bill Korach. 'It's the way we looked at transfers that's changed,' he said. 'We didn't really realize the impact of how the transfers from south to north out of River Grove impacts side-of-lake balance and also impacts our ability to distribute our elementary population in the schools that we have designated to stay open in Scenario B.'