What’s next for Eugene Field students?: After voters defeat bond measure, school board ponders next move

November 2014 Posted in Community, News, School

By Kristine Thomas

Speaking before the Silver Falls School Board at its Nov. 10 meeting, Eugene Field first-grade teacher Jennifer Wiken emphasized a sense of urgency to move students and staff out of the building.

“We’re exhausted and we are done. It’s not fair to the kids,” Wiken said. “How much longer do we have to do this?”

The defeat of the $24.9 million bond measure has left community members in the Silver Falls School District – both for and against the bond – discussing why the bond failed and what should happen next.

Although the bond failed – 55 to 45 percent – it does not change the fact the school board voted unanimously at its May 12 meeting to close the 94-year-old school. A timeline has not been set for when the school will close. Eugene Field parents and staff members would like to see a decision made soon.

In a letter to the board, Eugene Field staff wrote they are “still committed to moving our campus to a different location.”

“Having the school bond defeated was a disappointing loss in our quest to put K-3 Silverton students in a safer, healthier learning environment. But don’t mistake disappointment for defeat,” the letter says.

If the bond measure had been approved, the money would have been used to pay for construction costs at the Robert Frost, Mark Twain and Schlador Street campuses. The unsafe sections of the former high school would have been removed, making way for new classrooms. A portion was designated for technology and safety upgrades for the K-8 schools.

Ideas that have been discussed on what should be done next to relocate Eugene Field students – with no decision having been made – include purchasing  temporary modulars. The district does not have the funds to pay for modulars. The board discussed selling district property and obtaining a private loan to be repaid from the district’s general fund. Selling Eugene Field was also discussed.

Wiken told the board nothing would make her happier than to see a “for sale” sign on the building before Christmas, drawing applause from the audience.

During the meeting, the board heard public comment as well as expressing their ideas on what should happen next.

School Board Chair Tim Roth said it doesn’t matter why the bond failed.

“We still have 450 kids in a school that’s inadequate and that we need to get kids out of,” Roth said. “Eugene Field is at the end of its useful life.”

Roth said the board should not “drag its feet” in deciding what’s next for Eugene Field staff and students.

“We need to keep moving forward and come up with a solution,” Roth said.

He said he thinks putting the building up for sale should be a priority.

“We need to make a decision as soon as we can on what we are going to do,” he said.

Board member David Beeson wrote in a letter to the board that he believes the board needs “a period of reflection and calm and of thoughtful and objective analysis before we move to address any of the Eugene Field issues.”

Describing the situation at hand as a complicated topic, Beeson said he thinks all the options should be back on the table. “We need to revisit the decisions we have made,” he said. “I think we all need to cool our emotions and work together.”

Beeson said the voters have “spoken twice now – and very decisively. They have twice solidly rejected the plans put forward by the board leadership and our superintendent and endorsed by the board majority. We should learn from this.”

Beeson wrote that while no one on any side of the Eugene Field issue has suggested the school should be continued to be used in its current condition, the board may need to reevaluate its vote to close the school.

He also expressed concern that there are problems in many of the district’s buildings that also need to be addressed.

“There are so many possibilities we have not considered, so many that have been rejected out-of-hand by some in the pursuit of what seems a single-agenda solution,” he wrote.

For the last 18 months, the board sought community input and put forth a bond they thought would be approved by voters.

In a note to board members, Roth wrote the feedback the board received from the community that “it seems the majority of people understand the (Eugene Field) problem and agree we should move students and staff out of the building.

“As members of the school board, I feel strongly that we need to figure out a way to get students and staff out of the building as soon as possible,” Roth said.

Board members Owen Von Flue, Erv Stadeli and Julie Norris all said the board should thoughtfully move forward and do what’s in the best interest of the students.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” Von Flue said.

Board member Tom Buchholz said he thinks the board should investigate why the bond failed twice. He has heard reasons from fears the K-8 schools could be closed to voters feeling overtaxed. He also knows community members who are still unhappy about state-mandated district unification years ago and the bond to build the first phase of the high school.

“I feel like all offers are on the table and we need to take a breath and come up with a solution,” Buchholz said. “If we put in modulars, they are going to be there a long time.”

Superintendent Andy Bellando said although he’s disappointed the bond did not pass, that the relocation of Eugene Field students and staff remains “a top priority for the district and for members of our communities.”

“We are also committed to keeping the lines of communication open and finding creative solutions to ensure that all of our students have access to a safe and positive learning environment.”

Voters’ share insights on how they voted
On Our Town’s Facebook page, we asked voters why they voted for or against the bond. Below are some responses.

Jean Elliott: “I voted for the school bond because we need a new school. It’s just that simple. Eugene Field is no longer safe or adequate to meet the needs of our students. Third party experts confirmed this. The school board already voted to close the school. So we need to build a new school. The school board’s plan to reconfigure the town schools and build a new middle school was sensible and cost-efficient. The tax rate would still have been LESS than what we were paying before the first high school bond retired. The district would have been able to keep its cash reserves and use them for any needed building repairs at outlying schools. Unfortunately, voters said no. I’m very disappointed that more people were not willing to do what needs to be done for our community’s children, for our future.

Kristen Sweeney: “I voted against the bond because I wanted more details about the interest rate. As well as the bond holder themselves and their trustworthiness.”

Megan Cox: “I would have liked to see the safety of rural school kids held to some importance. Instead the bond offered less than half of what the town schools would have been allotted to furniture alone to be divided between seven schools. And, that was for security and technology upgrades not structure improvements to keep those kids safe. A covered area at Mark Twain should not come before a roof that will collapse at any time at Butte Creek.”

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