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LOSD board looks at maintenance, facilities bond

Three-day work session has officials weighing needs for the future


by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Elementary and junior high schools have $24.11 million in deferred maintenance with fixes including troubling cracks in the walls at Lakeridge Junior High School.Address millions of dollars in deferred maintenance. Prepare for a possible facilities bond. Determine which school buildings to keep or sell, shore up declining enrollment and consider changes to academic programs.

Those are just a few of the items on a lengthy to-do list facing the Lake Oswego School Board, which met for three days last week to sift through goals, identify priorities and begin to put together a strategic plan for the 2014-15 school year and beyond.

New Superintendent Heather Beck joined the five-member board for a series of hours-long work sessions facilitated by Renee Sessler, a board development specialist for the Oregon School Board Association. The meetings culminated in a regular session July 10, where board members gave Beck the official nod to compile their list of priorities into what will eventually become a three-year strategic plan.

Beck said she will hold a retreat with her administrators to start shaping that plan and address the question, “How are we going to make (these goals) come to life?”by: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Here's a close up of a cracked wall at Lakeridge Junior High.

Many of the issues the board discussed involve the roofs over students’ heads.

“In the short term,” board member Sarah Howell said, “we really have a lot of work to do on our facilities.”

A real estate study released in April identified $24.11 million in deferred maintenance needs at the district’s two junior highs and nine elementary schools. The projects include improving accessibility; replacing siding; upgrading plumbing, electrical and boiler systems; addressing cracks in the walls; and replacing leaky roofs.

“We’re patching (roofs) for now, but some of our roofs are 20-plus years old,” said Rob Dreier, facilities director. “Several of our roofs are beyond their useful life. There are some that ... we patch each year in a different place.”

School officials have discussed the possibility of a facilities bond in 2015 to pay for some of the repairs, a sentiment the community has echoed.

“A lot of us have been hearing about the needs for our facilities,” Howell said.

Not included in the $24.11 million are facilities upgrades and repairs for Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools, many of which could be extensive. For example, a stadium upgrade at Lakeridge High School — which Principal Jennifer Schiele said is among the school’s top priorities — carries an estimated price tag of more than $2 million. The board has said funds for that project could come from district construction excise tax revenue and donations, but not from the general fund.

Board member Patti Zebrowski said she doesn’t want repairs to halt progress.

“How do we deal with our deferred maintenance and invest at the same time?” Zebrowski asked.

The same study that identified maintenance needs also is guiding the board as it contemplates which elementary school buildings to keep or sell.

Three of the district’s nine elementary schools — Palisades, Bryant and Uplands — are currently closed. The buildings are being used for other purposes in the interim and could reopen, depending in part on the results of the study. They and any of the other six elementary school buildings also could be sold, with proceeds helping to pay for repairs throughout the district.

It’s a complicated issue and a dilemma for the board, because some programs are operating at capacity.

“We had to turn away many kids from our elementary schools because our facilities don’t have the space,” Zebrowski said, and that may have cost the district potential tuition revenue.

One example is Delta, a behavior/anxiety program that includes higher-functioning students with Asperger’s and autism. Delta programs at Westridge and Hallinan are maxed out for next year.

“That we’re at 100-percent capacity this time of year makes me really nervous,” Zebrowski said.

Conversely, Howell said there’s been a gradual decline in the general elementary school population, and a Portland State University study projects that trend will continue.

“They’re showing a downward trend that greatly concerns me,” Howell said. “That’s really the lifeline of whatever we do in this district. If we can’t maintain or even look at perhaps growing our elementary enrollment, it’s really going to limit our choices in the future.”

Zebrowski said the district must ensure that students are ready to enter a workforce that increasingly is more science- and information-based.

“That is something that’s going to be challenging,” she said.

Changes could come in the form of more science, technology, engineering and math curriculum, Howell said.

Board member John Wendland said the district needs to make sure it offers opportunities for some high schoolers to obtain college credit while also preparing some students for vocational classes.

“We’ve taken away all the shop classes and the extracurricular activities some kids were really dialed into,” Wendland said.

Board vice chairman Bob Barman also was looking ahead at last week’s meetings, thinking of how much has changed in the years since his twin sons, now 20, were in elementary school. Barman said the world’s become more globally connected, and the school district needs to keep up and stay strong.

“We have to be attractive,” Barman said. “We’ve got a great image — Lake Oswego: great schools.”

Board chairwoman Liz Hartman said ensuring that the proper policies are in place is one way to keep that image alive.

“I think it is time for us to read through our policies once again and as we put these priorities up there, make sure that the policies are in place that allow these things to happen,” Hartman said.

Beck will compile the list of priorities in time for the board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Aug. 6. Approval of a final strategic plan is expected by Aug. 18.

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