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River Grove reaches a crossroads

The future of River Grove Elementary School is at a 'significant crossroads' this year after being tapped Monday for either an eventual six- to eight-classroom addition or for closure this fall.

District Superintendent Bill Korach presented the two ideas to the Lake Oswego School Board on Monday to solve a capacity issue with the district's original plan to go from nine elementary schools to six.

After the school board settled on closing Palisades, which the district did last fall, and following that with closures of Uplands and Bryant this year, a newly formed parent committee, tasked with redistributing students on the south side of the lake, found it impossible to fit all students in the remaining space without modifying last year's decision.

Last year's determination was motivated by the goal of saving $2.2 million with school closures. But now cost savings from redistributing students in the Lake Oswego School District look to be between $1.15 and $1.8 million if the school board selects one of Korach's options.

While maintaining the original decision to close three schools would save more money, the committee and administration agreed that it was only a short-term option because it left no room for future growth or for revenue opportunities like accepting more nonresident transfers (see related article on page _____).

Portables and a new wing

Korach's first option is to follow through with the original three closures but to add portables to Lake Grove and River Grove to accommodate for lack of space. The total cost savings for this option would be $1.8 million in the first year.

This option partly affirms the south side parent committee's second option, which was to create a flexible north-south boundary that would allow River Grove students living in a certain area to attend Lake Grove, which is in the north, as long as they could return to south-side secondary schools.

Korach said that by doing both - shifting River Grove students to Lake Grove and siting portables at both schools - the district will have room for a burgeoning population of young children in new housing development in the city of Rivergrove area as well as for a K-1 Spanish language immersion program.

Though the majority of the parent committee did not support portables at River Grove, a small, minority from the committee differed from their colleagues and strongly advocated for siting portables at River Grove until a new wing could be built.

'Our community is willing to shoulder the burden of portables to help the whole district thrive,' said Carmit McMullin, a River Grove representative on the committee.

Another River Grove representative, Lisa Stephens, strongly advocated for investing in the district where the population is growing and said that the option offers a long-term solution.

The cost of 12 additional classrooms in six portables is about $175,000 annually and would eventually become the payment amount for a 10-year debt on the construction of a new wing at River Grove, which the district would aim to have by fall 2015, said Finance Director Stuart Ketzler.

'I don't see the downside with portable classroom as a temporary measure based on our experience,' said Korach, who told the board that teachers liked being in the portables back in the 80s - the last time the district used them.

Though the committee indicated it did not like the idea of a language immersion hub in the remaining space at Bryant, which will only be partly used on the new Lakeridge Junior High School campus (see story on page ___), Korach said that the option should still be on the table along with the aforementioned changes.

Closing River Grove

His second option is closing River Grove this year instead of Uplands, which is a bigger school, and reopening Palisades. The option would still close Bryant this year. The total cost savings for this option would be $1.15 million the first year.

'If the district does not choose to invest in River Grove ... consideration should be given to disinvesting in it,' said Korach.

Since River Grove is the district's smallest school, it would best use the district's resources to close it rather than Uplands.

In this option, there would still be the use of flexible boundaries, where Lake Grove students would be heading into either Lakeridge or Lake Oswego high school.

The south side parent committee also presented the option of reopening Palisades (See article in the April 3 Lake Oswego Review).

In this option, a Spanish language immersion K-1 would be at Lake Grove.

The bigger picture

School Board Chair John Wendland worried that no matter the option, the district will be burning through its cash resources, which it has been saving for a day like this one.

Ketzler projected the district's ending fund balance in three years - either closing three schools or closing two schools - and found that either way the district will have a negative ending fund balance if it continues spending at the same rate.

'If you looked back at all of our strategic planning ... we have predicted exactly this economic reality for the last two to three years, and we've done everything to prevent it but we have now reached the crossroads where we're in a very difficult situation,' said Wendland.

He questioned what the offsets for each decision would be. How many teachers' jobs could be lost or saved with each option? How big will class sizes be?

School board members began some other brainstorming about cost savings possibilities. Board Member Patti Zebrowski suggested moving music classes to carts to free up one room in each school, while Korach added past ideas of having a six-period day at the high school instead of eight periods or having principals assigned to two schools.




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