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May 7, 2013
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Guest column: Closing a school is a permanent decision to a temporary problem

Our children, our community and our future require action! As a citizen, please consider how you can help our kids and our schools. Voting “yes” on the Roseburg School District bond levy is a good first step.

A second step could be getting a hold of your neighborhood parent/community group and seeing how you can volunteer to help ensure the bright future of our children and save the district money.

My wife has not only worked at Rose Elementary for more than seven years, but she also attended Rose as a child, as did our two younger children. She grew up in walking distance to Rose, and we have lived a block away from Rose for the past 10 years. That being said, my concern is not for my wife’s job, as she has eight years in with the district and would be moved with the kiddos. My concern is with closing a school, period.

The district estimates it will save approximately $312,000 by closing Rose, and that number will drop by approximately $75,000 as it proposes adding one teacher to eliminate blends (i.e., blended first and second grade classes) in the remaining schools. That drops the estimated savings down to $237,000. However, nationally, statistics say that schools NEVER net the projected savings from consolidation.

The district also estimates this closure will directly affect 535 kids adversely. I did some simple math, and we are going to do this for the savings of $442 per kid. Who wants to answer the kid who asks, “Why do I have to go to a different school this year?” with, “Well, because it will save the district $442.” But sadly, the truth is, in the last five years, the district has already cut $10 million out of the budget and cut 75 jobs (this has been accomplished partially at the sacrifice of curriculum, technology and building maintenance). Without some help from somewhere, i.e., a levy, the district has to look at more painful cuts, and closing one school isn’t nearly enough to cover the $1.2 million shortfall.

I have been closely involved in the school closure dialogue since it first came about. I have witnessed firsthand how destructive it has been to our community. As this process continued, many of us were faced with a choice: Do we just accept our fate and let a school close, sitting back to watch as all our schools continue in their downward spiral? Or do we band together, roll up our sleeves, and see what we can do to help?

Well, that is exactly what a group of citizens has done. Firmgroundforkids.com is a group of everyday, hard-working people committed to the effort of getting K-12 student education back on firm ground. While the original committee was born out of the four schools targeted for closure by the Roseburg School District, the group has expanded to include representatives from most of the K-12 schools, local business members, parents, grandparents, retirees, teachers, board members and administrators alike. While our focus is clearly the K-12 bond levy at the moment, it is our hope that the organization will grow and expand farther and further into the future to ensure that our kids will always have a thriving educational environment in Roseburg.

There are a lot of people who say a levy hasn’t got a chance since many people are just fed up with taxes, whatever they are for, myself included. However, we have seen that most folks, if they take a minute, look at the unique facts of this critical situation and see the effort that has already been done, begin to see the need to consider this levy.

Some people think closing a school is not a big deal because it doesn’t directly impact them. However, while it may be true that they are not one of the nearly 20 percent of elementary students in the district who will be directly impacted by this, there will be a ripple effect across the entire district, and the downward spiral of our schools will continue. But, if the levy does pass, every child in the district from kindergarten through high school will benefit.

For the cost of one latte a month (roughly $40 per year per household), we, the community, can put those things back on track for our children, our future. The levy is a good thing for our community, our schools, our businesses, and our home values!

Closing a school is a permanent decision to a temporary problem. Please don’t assume. Get the facts at firmgroundforkids.com

Help us do what is right for our children. God bless.

J. Matt Royston of Roseburg is pastor of the Coles Valley Church in Umpqua. He has served in church leadership for 20 years, was on the North Umpqua Planning Advisory Committee for eight years, and on the board of the Umpqua Community Health Center for four years. He can be reached at jmattroyston@gmail.com.

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The News-Review Updated May 8, 2013 10:14AM Published May 7, 2013 12:48PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.