Many questions asked, some answered at school board meeting

The Lake Oswego School Board made decisions on key measures for the coming year that left many audience members devastated at a meeting Monday night.

Among the topics tackled by the board were Spanish immersion and a potential reduction in force.

Spanish immersion

LOSD has been offering an exploratory kindergarten through second-grade Spanish immersion program at Lake Grove Elementary School, with half of the instruction time in Spanish and the other half in English.

“We have an exceptional teacher in the kindergarten program,” said Board Chairman John Wendland, “and we are thankful for her.”

When the program was first developed, it had not yet been decided at what age students would be admitted into the program in the future, and whether this year’s kindergarteners would be automatically accepted into the program as first-graders or entered into a lottery process along with new applicants.

The time for a decision arrived Monday.

Ten parents gave testimony on their experience with the program and their hopes for its fate. Lauren Carr made a passionate plea for grandfathering in current students, and Linwood Shannon, whose son is a kindergartener in the program, made a statement echoed by other parents: “We are so excited with how much he’s learning.”

Board member Patti Zebrowski said by virtue of the program’s demonstrated capacity to have a profound impact, all students in LOSD should be treated equally in the admission process.

“I want every child to have the chance to get into the program,” she said. “We need to keep a fair and open process.”

Though board member Bob Barman said he wanted to give all students — current and potential — the opportunity to enroll in the program, he also pointed out that many parents in the district might not have the time or resources to participate in the program’s current half day iteration.

In a motion that had caused one parent to leave the room in tears, the school board voted to offer Spanish immersion kindergarten if enrollment reaches the target of 25 for the class.

Wendland said, “If there are more than 25 students applying, then a lottery will take place for kindergarten. The first-grade class for 2013-14 will be the entry point to the Spanish immersion program and, based on interest, will take 28 students, which will be determined by lottery if more than that number apply to the program. There is sibling priority for families that are already in the program for both kindergarten and first grades.”

“I would have preferred that the district go the other way and make kindergarten the entry point, because families don’t want to have to lottery multiple times. ... In the meantime, we’re really grateful for program that we have,” said Sarah Howell, an advocate for Spanish immersion with two children enrolled in the program.

“My heart goes out to the kindergarten parents,” Wendland later said, “but ... as a public institution ... we also look at the policy of being fair and transparent to our total community to make sure that everybody has a chance for this program.”

He added that the board might re-evaluate the potential for Spanish immersion at the kindergarten level when the state mandates full-day kindergarten beginning in 2014-15, but whether LOSD chooses to offer full-day kindergarten will be contingent upon funding.

“There’s still some questions that we’re hoping to get answers to from the education people in Salem as to how we’re supposed to implement this without more revenue,” Wendland said. “Education money, we’re having to do more and more with less and less.”

Potential staff reduction

Reiterating Wendland’s statement on LOSD’s bleak fiscal outlook, Director of Finance Stuart Ketzler presented on the LOSD financial model, saying, “I fully expect that by the time we get to the end of this fiscal year we will have received less in state fiscal support than we did this year.”

Wanting to prepare for every financial eventuality, Director of Human Resources Mary Kaer recommended that the school board declare a potential reduction in force for all areas of LOSD employment.

Board member Teri Oelrich made the motion, member Linda Brown seconded it “with deep regret” and it passed.

Wendland later explained that such a motion does not signify that employees would immediately or definitely be laid off. Rather, he said, the school board and district administration want to prepare the minority of teachers and classified staff who might be laid off after district budgeting is finalized around April or May.

These employees could be teachers who are only credentialed in one subject area or whose colleagues are more tenured.

“Eighty percent of the district is probably solid, because we have to teach English, math and social studies and requirements for PE and that sort of thing, and next year we’re not going to be closing any schools, so we do have a lot of it in place right now,” Wendland said. “Really, we’re dealing more with the fringe things: If we have a big policy decision from the board that says our class sizes are going to increase to save money or we’re going to cut a program to save money, then that’s when that other 20 percent gets put in the flux category.”

Though layoffs may turn out to be necessary, Wendland mentioned that this year human resources was able to bring back all classified staff who had been laid off last year, and that scenario could be realized again in 2013.

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