District 55 to start rural school study

School District 55 Supt. Larry Horton is beginning a comprehensive study to help decide whether to close Crawfordsville or Holley schools.

He told the School Board Monday night during its regular meeting that he would return with what he learns in two or three months.

A 5-year-old district policy requires him to conduct the study when combined enrollment at the two schools drops below 150.

The combined enrollment on Friday was 142.

Horton said he had been criticized for the decision to move the Holley-Crawfordsville kindergarten and the Opportunity Room, an alternative education class, to Oak Heights.

The district had projected four kindergarten students, moving the class because of its small size; but it actually had seven students from the Holley and Crawfordsville areas. The Opportunity Room has five students.

The Opportunity Room was moved to Holley two or three years ago, Horton said. The district moved it back into Sweet Home because of transportation costs and because of the limited administrative time at Holley.

The combined enrollment with these students would have been 155 on Friday.

With the final numbers in place to trigger the study, Horton believes he is unlikely to recommend closure.

In the wake of announcing the possibility of the closure, Horton heard that many parents plan to enroll their children at the Charter School if Holley or Crawfordsville closed. The Charter School is located at the former Liberty School and is within the Holley attendance boundaries.

It would take 20 students enrolling at the Charter School to wipe out any savings realized by closing a school, Horton said.

“Now is not the time to close schools.”

But the board policy requires him to study the issue, he said. That means he must find answers to questions about the educational impact of a possible closure, population trends, logistical issues, what to do with the facilities, changing boundaries, capacities and conditions at the schools, community input and finances.

He has many questions to answer, he said. That’s why the policy calls for a yearlong study period €“ so the district doesn’t jump into anything irrational.

Cascadia representative Leena Neuschwander suggested that Horton return with a preliminary report rather than going through the entire study if the likely answer is to keep the schools open.

“I hate to rile the communities and scare staff,” Neuschwander said. After preliminary findings, she suggested the board might look at changing the policy.

“I don’t think it’s time to rile the public,” said Holley representative Chanz Keeney, who opposes closing the schools. It’s a policy and it can be changed. He said he hadn’t tried before because he didn’t think he had enough votes.

Keeney told Horton he thought his time was more valuable elsewhere.

But other board members disagreed.

Closing Beulah and Pleasant Valley Schools and transferring their students to Foster hasn’t been a problem, said Board member Billie Weber. The students from those areas get more rounded education with more opportunities for activities like gym that they didn’t have in the smaller schools.

“I want to stand behind the process,” said Chairman Jason Redick. He remembers five years ago when his son came home crying, worried about talk of closing Holley. The district set up a trigger and a process to study the issue.

“I don’t think going through the process will rile the community up,” Redick said. “It’s fact-finding.”

When the board receives the facts, it can react to them instead of relying on emotion, and then the community can react to the board’s decision, he said. “It really wouldn’t be fair to every other kid in the district if we didn’t follow policy.”

Dale Keene and Mike Reynolds echoed their support for following through on the process.

Keeney asked Horton how much he thought the study would cost. Horton told the board he didn’t know because he had never done such a study before, but he would have to hold three meetings, one in each community and one for the district in

general. He also would have to study population trends, for example, and he did not know how much that information might cost.

The board took no action, which means Horton will begin the study.

Present at the meeting were board members, Neuschwander, Weber, Keeney, Dale Keene, Redick, Reynolds, David VanDerlip, Fassler and Jenny Daniels.

In other business, the board:

– Decided to invite the Oregon School Boards Association, consultant Greg McKenzie and former board Chairman Milt Moran to a work session at 6 p.m. on Sept. 27 to discuss the search and hiring process for a new superintendent.

Horton will retire on June 30.

The OSBA and McKenzie both offer services to assist in the hiring process.

The School Board handled the process when Horton was hired about nine years ago. Reynolds said Moran would be willing to discuss the experience with the board.

Fassler said the district could save money and conduct the search itself. Keen agreed but asked whether the consultant might facilitate community meetings.

“I think we need to be involved in the hiring as much as we can,” Redick said. At the same time, none of the board members are experts. He was curious to see what the experts, such as OSBA and McKenzie, could offer.

VanDerlip agreed that expert help might be welcome. Considering the salary and benefits of the position, he said, the consulting fee for good advice would be an investment.

Keeney agreed as well, and the board decided to hold a work session to explore its options.

– Approved a contract with the teachers union for 2010-11. The contract includes no increases to the salary schedule,

although teachers will receive step increases if eligible. The contract freezes the district’s insurance rate contributions, and it includes the reduction of four days from the school year.

The district, teachers, classified and administrators have not agreed on which four days would be cut, but Horton said they would work on it this week because people need to be able to plan.

Approved a plan to pay off $540,000 in pension obligation bonds early to reduce interest payments by $326,000 over the next 11 years.

Treasury bill interest rates are at 2.8 percent, said Business Manager Kevin Strong. The bonds are at 5.5 percent, so paying them off early makes sense.

hired Linda Guth, .3 full-time equivalent special education teacher at Holley.

Declared a 1994 GMC cube van as surplus.

Adopted policy revisions to high school graduation requirements.

Established district academic goals for reading, math, writing and science, setting targets for the number of students meeting or exceeding the state standards.

Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Planting Seeds of Change program, which is a partner in planting gardens at each school in the district.

Announced that Budget Committee seats are open for Liberty, Foster and Sweet Home. Deadline to apply is Oct. 20. Stop by the superintenden’s office at the Central Office at 1900 Long St. or call 367-7126 for further information.