Changes ahead: Facilities committee to present case for school closure, bond

June 2012 Posted in News, School

By Kristine ThomasA series about our schools.

Closing Eugene Field Elementary School, creating a new middle school campus at Schlador Street, and putting a facilities bond measure on the ballot are all elements on the table as the Silver Falls School District Long-Range Facilities Committee prepares to present its recommendations to the school board June 11.

Since October, the long-range facilities committee has learned about essential maintenance projects at the district’s aging schools and the required core curriculum standards.

The 25 community members – composed of a cross-representation of the district’s school communities – reviewed former committee recommendations, were informed on many facets of educational needs, heard from specialists in technology and curriculum and reviewed feasibility studies, Superintendent Andy Bellando said.

“Group members also discussed the many unique elements of the district including current grade configuration, number of schools, sizes of schools, community elements impacting schools among others,” Bellando said.

“The recommendations being shared with the board are just that, recommendations,” Bellando said. “The ultimate decisions about facility changes and/or use come from the board.”

Bellando said the recommendations are broader than those developed by previous facility committees.

“They take into account the impact of the Common Core State Standard implementation, advancing technological needs, community interests, anticipated full-day kindergarten requirement, research on instructional models, schools sizes and others.  They also reflect the varied interests of the district,” he said.

Committee Chairman Victor Madge said the recommendations include closing Eugene Field, creating a middle school at the Schlador Street campus, selling property on Steelhammer, ensuring schools can meet new educational requirements, putting a bond before voters in 2013 and addressing maintenance issues at aging school facilities.

“There is a train heading our way and we need to lay down the tracks to be ready for it,” he said, referring to the new educational requirements.

Stating there is “an imminent need, a critical need to upgrade our outlaying schools,” Madge said he is in favor of a bond measure that would not increase the current taxes.

Because the bond for the first phase of the high school will be paid off next year, Madge said the school district could go for a new bond without taxpayers seeing an increase in their tax rate.

“We all agree that our children are our greatest resources and need our support, but it is not being fiscally responsible to neglect the investments we have in our buildings,” committee member Allison Newton said. “In the long run, it will cost us more money in the end. I support a bond that does not increase my taxes. We have a lot of needs to  address, yet we need to put a cap on how far to take this at this time.”

If a bond measure is put on the ballet, committee member Wally Lierman said, the priorities should be to address issues such as the Eugene Field site, the old high school building, deferred maintenance and improved infrastructure for middle school students, particularly for the students outside of town.

“The way the school funding works, the district is restricted from using bond dollars for operational – classroom – needs, however, operational funds can be used for major maintenance,” Lierman said.

“If major maintenance is not addressed through a bond, the district will eventually need to address these issues by using operational dollars, which leaves fewer dollars available for our day-to-day classroom needs.

“If a bond is passed, it needs to set us up for the future to free up operational dollars that can be spent on day-to-day learning opportunities for our students, rather than on major maintenance of our facilities,” he said.

Lierman said the committee set out to develop a recommendation on the general direction that the district should be heading in terms of infrastructure in both the short term and long term, adding the recommendation is not quite finalized.

“The committee values what we have today, but recognizes that changes need be made,” Lierman said.  “Changes need to be made due to the enhanced educational requirements for our students and their desire to provide greater standardization of opportunities for our middle school aged students. We also need to address maintenance issues with many of our buildings and we need to take care of some long standing facility issues that either are or may become a drag on our operational budget.”

After the recommendations are presented the school board will be looking for public input before making any decisions.

“It is very important to the committee that members of the community are provided sufficient opportunity for input into these recommendations and any decisions by the board,” Bellando said. “A few of the recommendations reflect this need. Board members have also commented on their desire to obtain community input and their plan to make it a priority.”

Overall, Lierman said, the district’s buildings are old and when compared to other districts of similar size, the district has a lot of buildings.

“Our second newest building is Robert Frost, which is approximately 35 years old. To allow us to continue using these buildings for years to come, we really to invest in them while it is still financially feasible to do so,” Lierman said.

“In some cases it may already not be financially prudent. Pete (Paradis), Helen (Fetsch) and their team have done a great job in maintaining our schools with what I would consider a shoe string budget, but at some point there comes a point where major maintenance and upgrades need to be done.”

The common core requirements played a role in how the committee thought about the best way to use the district’s buildings, both Madge and Lierman said.

“The common core standards have accelerated the levels that our students are expected to perform to, particularly in the areas of math, science and writing,”  Lierman said.

“The high school graduation standards also reflect this, which means that the K-8 curriculum needs greater rigor to ensure that students are positioned to be on track for graduation prior to even stepping foot into the high school.”

Lierman said the current state of the district’s facilities play into this in terms of what can be physically done and in terms of the logistics of how teaching is delivered to the students.

“All day kindergarten also ties into the common core standards because our kindergarten students will be expected to be capable of doing some things that have typically not been required until first grade,” Lierman said.

“Available space for all day kindergarten is an issue in town. We currently use all of the available space with AM and PM kindergarten at Eugene Field.”

Madge said the committee’s overall goal is to keep the district’s facilities from degrading further, close Eugene Field, and be ready to meet the changes in educational requirements.

“What we hope happens is to communicate to all the citizens how critically important it is to fix our facilities so they don’t hurt our children’s education,” Madge said.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.