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Coordinating Council ponders LOSD's vision for one high school

Superintendent Heather Beck tells parent-group leaders that the district is right to look at 'every option' for its future

REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Coordinating Council members discuss visions for the school districts future after listening to Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Heather Beck. Council members include (from left): Hallinan Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization president-elect Sandra Andrews and president Jamie Krup; Jennifer Krenek and Caroline Albertson, co-presidents of Lake Oswego High's Laker Club; and Kari Wheat, River Grove Parent Teacher Organization co-president.Lake Oswego School Superintendent Heather Beck told parent group leaders Friday that the school district should look at every possibility for its long-term future, including a “vision” that would combine the city’s two high schools into one.

“From my perspective, it would be irresponsible for us not to look at every option and study it and think, ‘What could we do? What should we do?’ and really spend some time having those in-depth conversations,” Beck told the Coordinating Council — a gathering of leaders of local parent clubs, PTSOs, PTOs and PTAs — at its regular meeting.

Beck said consolidation is just one of the ideas being considered by the district’s Long Range Facilities Planning Committee as it works to create a 25-year plan for addressing growth, capacity and at least $98 million in deferred maintenance and seismic upgrades. That total does not include additional soft costs, such as design and personnel.

The committee’s creation of a long-range plan fulfills a state requirement and is in preparation for a facilities bond that likely will go before voters in November. The draft report contains three “visions” for the district’s future, including one focusing on renovating current facilities and another that would build two new schools while also performing repairs.

But Beck said it is the idea of consolidation that has ignited a public debate.

“The (vision) that sparked people’s interest and got Facebook to light up and got people thinking about it was, ‘What would happen if we changed the configuration to one high school?’” she said. “That’s really what caused an immediate flash-fire angst. It doesn’t mean the board will say that’s what we should do or not do. There’s a page-and-a-half of recommendations this committee has suggested.”

Those suggestions are expected to be presented to the school board at a work session on Jan. 25, following a series of community meetings that started last fall. (One of those gatherings was held at Lakeridge High School on Wednesday night, past The Review’s deadline for this week’s newspaper. Go to lakeoswegoreview.com for complete coverage.)

Brian Madden, president of the Westridge Parent Teacher Student Organization, said rumors recently spread on social media and over email about the one-high-school vision, which some people mistakenly thought was a formal proposal.

“I fielded emails at home,” Madden said. “I was stopped in a parking lot. It was a disaster.”

Kate Firmin, who attended last week’s Coordinating Council meeting as co-president of the Lake Oswego Junior High Parent Club, also serves on the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee. Speaking for herself and not the whole committee, she said the idea behind the decision to include consolidation in the draft plan for facilities was to not rule out anything within the next 25 years.

The vision is “there as a possibility,” she said.

If the board adopts the plan, it would next consider conducting additional research to determine the feasibility — within 10 years — of going from two high schools to one on the Lake Oswego High campus, from two junior highs to one on the Lakeridge High campus, and from six elementary schools to five.

REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Westridge Parent Teacher Student Organization president Brian Madden discusses the community's response to the one-high-school vision with Hallinan PTSO president-elect Jerome Lee and Kate Firmin, co-president of the Lake Oswego Junior High Parent Club and a member of the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee.The committee’s draft report says that if Lake Oswego High becomes the sole high school campus, the district should consider the construction of a skybridge between LOHS and the current Lake Oswego Junior High “to provide for safe, convenient pedestrian connections between both parts of the campus.” If both junior highs are consolidated into one school on the current Lakeridge campus, the report says, the district “may wish to consider the possibility of covering the existing stadium seating and/or providing additional covered seating at this location.”

Consolidation also could involve reconfiguring grade levels, the report says — possibly splitting campuses into seventh-ninth and 10th-12th sections with a shared Science, Technology, Engineering and Math wing, or creating a ninth-grade or theme-based academy.

Minutes from the planning committee’s Nov. 18 discussion list both pros and cons for the idea of consolidation. On the upside, moving to one high school would allow the district to offer more programs and electives, make schools less expensive to operate and create “one Lake Oswego.” Cons include losing the “smaller school experience,” “fewer opportunities athletically for varsity sports” and “community anxiety about large schools.”

Yet, Beck reminded the Coordinating Council last Friday that consolidation is just one possibility for the district’s future. And, she said, it would not be part of the bond measure that will be placed on the November ballot.

“Nobody is going to start voting for a vision,” Beck said. “Bonds begin with ‘b,’ and they can only go for buildings.”

The school board will use the Long Range Facilities Plan to help guide policy, but it will form a bond committee to transform the recommendations included in the plan into a set of proposed physical improvements and repairs to the district’s buildings for board members to vote on. And even then, not all of the needed repairs would necessarily be included in the bond measure. The work is simply too extensive to cover in one bond and need to be addressed in stages, Beck said.

“We couldn’t do all of those (projects) in one bond and fix everything, because with a bond, you only have a short amount of time. And no matter what, you just need to know that all of this is long term,” Beck said. “We’re good — but we’re not that good, so this is a long-range conversation.”

The school board will not be taking public input at its Jan. 25 work session, and the board does not make formal decisions at work sessions, so it will vote on the plan at a later date. School Board Chairwoman Liz Hartman said last week that the board also would not attend the public forum scheduled for Jan. 20, in order to let the committee hear from the public before making its recommendations.

But the board will still learn what people had to say, she said.

“Public commentary presented in this meeting will be forwarded to the board, along with the committee's final report,” Hartman told The Review.

There will be other opportunities for input as well. The school district is preparing to roll out an online forum through the platform Thoughtexchange next month, allowing people to share their views. When the bond committee forms, it also will have meetings in which public input will be encouraged.

In the meantime, SueAnn Douglass, co-president of the Forest Hills Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization and a Coordinating Council member, suggested people not rely on social media platforms for their information about the Long Range Facilities Plan.

“If you want to educate yourself, go read the district newsletter,” Douglass said.

By Jillian Daley
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For more information about the Long Range Facility Plan, visit the school district’s website at bit.ly/1NvkS7X.