The decision no one wants to make is getting closer.
It’s been more than a year since Roseburg school officials recommended shutting down an elementary school if the district continued to face budget shortfalls and declining enrollment. It’s a suggestion no one embraced and many — especially parents at Rose and Green elementary schools, the most likely targets of a closure — pushed away with both hands.
Last week, the recommendation resurfaced. We wouldn’t say school closure should be greeted with a group hug. But neither can the proposal be held at bay with raised fists.
Responding to public outcry in 2010, the Roseburg School Board shelved the idea of closing a school in the face of a $4 million budget shortfall, but appointed a committee to explore options. The committee submitted an 86-page report concluding that the district could save $500,000 by closing one of its nine elementary schools.
Four months after that, the board backed away and opted instead to seek an $8 million levy on this November’s ballot. Before that could happen, board members decided to postpone the levy until May 2013. They deemed summer was too difficult a time to drum up support for a property tax-raising measure.
Last month, district Superintendent Larry Parsons characterized the levy effort as “probably dead” due to the lack of board consensus. He followed that pronouncement last week with a recommendation to close an elementary school.
The circle has closed.
Except that several board members still resist what seems to be inevitable.
Their reasons are understandable. It’s hard on children to change schools when families expected them to continue at the same site for a certain number of years. It’s hard on parents who may have to send their kids to a school more distant from their homes. It’s tough on employees who may lose their jobs, and on the community that counts each school as a cornerstone.
But here’s the sticking point: The district needs to save the $500,000.
One board member said he didn’t think the savings justified the heartbreak a closure would cause. Yet if your shopping cart is full of groceries you can’t afford, you have to start pulling out items, one at a time. A price tag of half a million dollars is a good place to start.
Another board member said he opposed the idea because it would be unpopular. But leadership requires making tough decisions. Not all will be popular.
For students and parents, the effects of school closure are short-lived. They are also survivable. Sadly, the nation has seen this week that far worse fates can befall a school.
Closure has potential benefits to children as well. Assistant Superintendent David Hanson said students would be more evenly distributed through the district, avoiding some blended classes. Money saved now could benefit future classes by allowing improved curriculum, updated technology and building repairs.
More than one person protesting school closure stated that ways should be found to keep all schools open without resorting to a levy. That’s wishful thinking, and now it’s time for realistic action.
We urge the Roseburg School Board to take such action. Refusing to face unpleasant choices serves no one in the district.