Yoncalla residents are facing a heart-wrenching decision: They may find themselves once again considering a merger with the North Douglas School District in nearby Drain.
The need and cost of repairing or replacing the high school and elementary school brings the topic around again.
Anyone who is in doubt of the poor condition of the schools should visit the district’s website, www.yoncalla.k12.or.us, to view the 94-page report from Crow, Clay & Associates Inc. of Coos Bay. The June report details the needed repairs and includes photographs of deteriorating buildings. It’s a thorough assessment of their conditions.
The original high school building was constructed 65 years ago, with additions following in the 1950s through 1986. The building and grounds need an estimated $5 million in repairs. The elementary school was built in 1952 and gained additions in the 1970s. It needs roughly $3.19 million in repairs.
In its report, the firm noted that “diligent custodianship” of the buildings and systems kept them operating beyond their expected lifespan. District residents should feel good about how the schools have been maintained over the years.
Now they must decide what to do for the future. The cost of repairs would be difficult for the community of slightly more than 1,000 people, which educates about 290 students annually, to bear. Most industry has disappeared from Yoncalla, leaving homeowners to share the cost of a proposed bond levy.
If the district were to propose a $5 million levy — short of the total amount needed to upgrade both schools — the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 would pay $450 more in taxes over the next 20 years. That’s a lot more than other districts have proposed, yet their levies were defeated. And Yoncalla isn’t one of the more affluent areas of the county, with the median household income falling several thousand dollars’ short of the county’s median.
In discussing a school merger, the Yoncalla School Board has research and recommendations available. After voters rejected a merger in 2004 with 61 percent of the community voting against it, proponents said the district should have done more homework and provided more concrete facts to the residents. Some said the district should have polled residents in Drain and Yoncalla before initiating the merger vote. North Douglas voters were ready to welcome their neighbors, however, with 71 percent of voters approving the merger.
The merger discussion at that time began with 65 residents coming together to research the issue. That was a good sign of community involvement.
In the decade since that vote, enrollment has only declined, further reducing the compressed budget for educating students.
Cost will certainly be a factor in how the Yoncalla School Board proceeds, but the most important element should be the quality of the students’ education.
We understand how difficult it is for a community to lose its schools — we’ve seen it too many times in Douglas County — but nostalgia and emotional attachments must be set aside.
Yoncalla residents must consider which long-term arrangement will be best for future students and their success.