Administrators gear up for the second round of school closures

Since doors closed this spring at Palisades Elementary School, the Lake Oswego School District administration has been busy planning the closure of two more schools and the associated changes coming to the whole district.

One of those potential changes involves new start times - an issue the administration is revisiting from two years ago. The school board will meet in a work session at 6 p.m. Monday at the district administration building to discuss daily schedules.

As the student population shifts, the bus schedule will also shift. The goal will be to start elementary classes earlier in the morning and high school later in the day, Superintendent Bill Korach told the school board last week. 'But it hurts you in some places,' he added.

The later start time could be better for high school students who naturally need more early morning sleep. But it could hurt athletic programs, which rely on having enough time after school for each team to practice.

On the elementary side, an earlier start time could harm the early morning orchestra program. It could also affect accelerated math students who are now bused to one elementary school for their class.

Though the district is picking up where it left off a few years ago with planning schedules, school board members do not have any newly packaged choices to consider, and they have not yet voted on anything.

Chairman John Wendland asked the administration to put an option before the board that would allow the district to continue all of its current programming even if it means running more buses, resulting in a higher cost. When the district made adjustments to school schedules in 2010, it was limited by its small bus fleet, and without paying for more buses it couldn't find a way to address concerns.

'The idea is to not limit ourselves. … What do we need to make it work?' Wendland asked.

The schedule changes are just one piece of implementing what is known as part two of Scenario B. This fall, the district accomplished part one of Scenario B with the closure of Palisades. The district estimates that it saved $850,000 by closing the school and will continue to realize that savings each year.

At the end of this school year, the administration plans to close Uplands Elementary, repurpose Bryant Elementary and redistribute sixth-graders into a new middle school model, which will save the district an additional $1.45 million.

Combined with the $850,000 from closing Palisades, the total annual savings for the district will be $2.3 million after the full implementation of Scenario B.

School district administrators say it is just one part of the solution to fill a budget gap of $5.5 million for the 2012-13 school year. The shortfall is the result of lagging state revenues and a drop in real estate value, which affects the amount of money the school district receives from its local option levy.

This spring, the district already signed contracts with its employee unions that will help relieve some of the economic pressures. Employees will receive no cost-of-living increases and no step increases for this year. For the 2012-13 school year, the increases are conditional, based on an increase in the district's resources. Additionally, employees will also pay an increased share of the cost of their medical benefits.

To fill the remaining gap, the district could look to a number of sources, including the Lake Oswego School District Foundation, which raised $2.2 million last year, and the city of Lake Oswego, which was able to squeeze $2 million out of its budget to contribute to schools.

Korach said the administration is on target with implementing the closures, but staff is behind on normal functions. 'We are doing the things that are absolute musts. ... We're running behind on the normal stuff,' he said.

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