With an $8 million levy off the table, Roseburg Schools Superintendent Larry Parsons and other top staff members Wednesday recommended the school board close one of the district’s nine elementary schools to help bridge a budget shortfall and compensate for declining enrollment.
Closing a school would also cut down on classes with students in two different grades and make cafeteria and custodial services more efficient, they said.
Decreased state funding has forced the school district to reduce its spending by more than $12 million in the past four years, according to the district. Shutting down a school could save up to $500,000 a year, officials said.
“After 41 years as an educator, I remain philosophically opposed to closing schools, but sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do,” Parsons said. “It’s not a lot (of savings), but it’s something, and we’re at the place where we need it. So with great reluctance, I recommend closing a school.”
Despite a firm staff recommendation, there was little agreement among school board members Wednesday at a work session on whether the cost-saving measure, which they rejected nearly a year ago, would be worthwhile.
The board renewed the topic after dropping plans last month to put a five-year levy on the May ballot. The levy would have raised property taxes by 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
When the board in February turned down a recommendation from an advisory committee to close either Rose or Green elementary school, a levy was floated as an alternative. The board was unanimous last spring when it decided to seek a levy. But members this fall started to be torn on whether it would be worth the effort, becoming worried that in a tough economy. voters would turn the measure down.
With the levy no longer an option to help pay for technology, maintenance and curriculum, some board members said the district may be forced to close a school.
“We’re at the point where we need to make cuts,” board member Stacy Stiefel said. “I know it’s a very unpopular thing to do, but we have no choice.”
Parsons said although an advisory committee recommend closing either Rose or Green elementary school, the school board may consider closing any of the district’s elementary schools.
“The recommendation of the citizens’ committee still stands, but it’s just a recommendation,” he said. “I think at least a couple (board members) want to look at all nine elementary schools.”
Several board members said Wednesday they still couldn’t bring themselves to close a school. The cost savings would be too insignificant to justify the heartbreak that shutting down an elementary school would cause to students, teachers and families, board member Rodney Cotton said.
“I just don’t see how I can be pushed into closing a school,” he said. “I don’t think it’s worth the $500,000.”
Board member Joe Garcia said he’s always opposed closing a school because it would be so unpopular.
“I view it like the local option levy. It’s a tough sell to the community,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent David Hanson said he supports closing a school because students would be more evenly distributed throughout the district, eliminating some classes that combine two grades. It’s more work for teachers to have blended classes, he said.
“They’re having to worry about two curriculums at the same time and that’s difficult,” Hanson said.
Closing their elementary school won’t be the end of the world for students, he said.
“It’s an emotional thing that takes place, but sometimes it’s necessary,” Hanson said. “They’re going to have a different teacher next year, whether it’s at a different school or not.”
Chief Operations Officer Cheryl Northam said closing a school would provide a bit of leeway in the district’s finances.
“That scares me, that we’re getting so tightly budgeted,” she said.
Board member Daniel Endicott said Parsons’ and other top staff members’ endorsements of closing a school make him inclined to support it.
He also brought up concerns about the poor condition of Green Elementary School, which was built in 1949. The school’s aging building was why it was identified as a top contender for closure by an advisory committee.
In 2008, a committee studied the district’s long-range building needs and recommended that Green Elementary be replaced within five years at a cost of $9 million.
“I know we have a building in disrepair,” Endicott said. “I think it’s going to get to the point where we’re going to have to make a decision.”
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.