Monday, December 02, 2002

Work Session Minutes

Ashland School District No. 5, Jackson County, Oregon - The Board of Directors met in a work session on December 2, 2002, at 6:30 p.m. in the Ashland High School Commons.  Present were:

John Maurer ) Board Chair

Amy Amrhein )
Curt Bacon )
Chuck Keil ) Board Members  
Terry Littleton )
   
Juli Di Chiro, Superintendent
Loren Luman, Business Manager
District Administrators
Media Representatives
School Closure Committee Members
Community Members
Jeanne Peterson, Executive Secretary


I. Call to Order

 The meeting was called to order at 6:30 pm by Board Chair Maurer.

II. Roll Check

 A roll of the board was taken and all members were present.

III. Hear Findings of School Closure Committee

Kent Provost, Co-Facilitator of the School Closure Committee, introduced the committee members.  Ellie Thivierge reviewed the process and purpose of the committee.  The purpose of the committee was to develop criteria and rank schools for closure.  Major issues from the community included sufficient time to complete the process, student safety, small class size and maintaining programs.  Since the committee was representing the entire community, the focus was on the good of the whole.  Ms. Thivierge reviewed the presentations and reports viewed by the committee which included:  a report from the Eugene School District on its school closure, demographerís report, fire and safety ranking from the Ashland Fire Department, seismic evaluation, interdistrict transfer of students, transportation report, a market feasibility study, district maintenance, 20 year growth map, area map, distance to school map, land value map, zoning map, geologic map, and a savings report resulting from school closure provided by the district.  After seeing the richness of the programs and the specialness of each of the schools, the committee considered including atmosphere of the schools as part of the criteria, but determined that it was too difficult to measure.  The final criteria included:  children first, greatest flexibility for future programs, small class size, demographics and capacity, facilities, maintenance, public safety and operational safety.  The Board had asked the committee to determine if the criteria was appropriate to consider the closure of two schools, and the committee determined the criteria was appropriate.

Nora Knox reported on capacity and classrooms.  Capacity of schools to accommodate enrollment was considered to be a high criteria.  Flexibility was also considered in that many of the schools offer alternative learning environments such as art rooms, learning labs, after school programs, etc.  Many community members value these programs, so the committee looked at flexibility to provide that as well.  Schools were ranked according to the highest to lowest capacity.

Keith Massie reported on growth and distributed some maps to the board members.  Mr. Massey focused on future growth area.  It was rated a low criteria, but the committee considered which neighborhoods would experience the most growth.  The 2001 data was provided by the City of Ashlandís community planning department.  Using that data, the schools were ranked according to the highest number of dwelling units within Ĺ mile of the schools. 

Melody Bynum reported on land and acres.  This criteria was rated high and the guide for school facilities appraisal was used to rank the schools based on the acreage around each school.

Lori Freed reported on busing criteria which focused on adequate bus ramps as well as traffic safety, proximity for walking and biking, business issues, economics, zoning and open enrollment.  Transportation Coordinator, Carol Savage, provided the committee with a report on the impact of school closure on transportation.  The reports revealed that bus utilization to all of the schools is low.  The committee also concluded that inner city transportation is accessible and reasonable to all schools.  Students living outside of the Ashland city limits would not be greatly affected by school closures.  The committee was assured that all busing needs would be met by the district within the budget if one or two schools were closed.  The schools were ranked according to adequate and safe bus ramps.  The criteria for bus ramps was considered low because other criteria were of higher value such as fire and classroom size.

Carol Davis reported on off street parking.  If the number of schools are reduced, the number of cars traveling to each remaining school will increase.  Parking had some importance though low in relationship to other factors.  Lack of parking would, however, impact neighborhoods.  The count was based on marked parking spaces.  The committee ranked the schools according to the highest number of marked parking spaces available.

Sabra Hoffman reported on maintenance and the total percent rating.  Bill Richardson and Jim McNamara appraised the elementary schools using an instrument developed by the Council of Educational Facility Planners.  The schools were ranked based on mechanical and structural features as well as plant maintainability.  This criteria was rated medium.

Dan Cazares reported on fire safety.  The Ashland Fire Department Chief reported to the committee that all of the buildings currently meet code.  Criteria included fire suppression units above stove hoods in the kitchens, exterior exits for school rooms, separation of buildings, fire doors that close in case of fire, fire detection units in boiler rooms, etc.  The schools were ranked according to the criteria.

Polly Greist reported on seismic costs which had been rated on a Seismic Report developed in 1995.  An engineer from the City of Ashland reported to the committee but not all questions were answered.  This criteria was given a low rating because of the relatively low earthquake risk in Southern Oregon.

Carla Fisher reported on operational savings.  The approximate savings from closing each elementary school is $300,000.  The schools were ranked according to the resultant savings.  That criteria was considered low by the committee.

Polly Greist gave a minority report indicating that the committee was rushed, the data reviewed was flawed, inaccurate and incomplete and the most important criteria, atmosphere, was not considered.  She provided corrected numbers, explaining that the final ranking of the schools did not change.

The Board took a break at 7:55 p.m. and reconvened at 8:03 p.m.

Several members of the closure committee questioned Polly Greistís corrected numbers and expressed concern for the lateness in her presenting this information.

 The Board heard public input which included the following comments.

School Closure is inevitable.  Reassure the kids that this is not the end of the world.  We will have three new schools that will be bigger and better.  We are currently five individual communities that need to come together as three new schools.

Student safety is a big concern, particularly fire and seismic problems at the schools.

Keep the defacto parks for the kids, community and neighborhoods.  Perhaps the district can lease the structures for 5 or 10 years and then have neighborhood schools again.

There was no discussion about creative solutions.

Close one school now and identify a school to closure in the future.  Set an enrollment target now and perhaps something positive might happen so the target is never reached.

There was no consideration of educational criteria.  Lincoln and Briscoe schools are closer to the heart of the community and that is unique.  Location provides opportunities for students to experience their education outside of the classroom.

Donít close any schools because of the impact on other families.  This is a time for leaders to come forward.  Closing schools is the worst solution to meet a budget.  This is not the best thing for kids.  As a group, the board and district have done a lot to earn the confidence and respect of the community.  Donít lose that.

How many students are walking to school and how many are driving or being driven.  Do we value making this a walking community?  If Briscoe and Lincoln both close, that means more cars will be transporting students to school.  There is a motherís group in the Briscoe community that is 20 to 30 mothers strong with children in diapers.  How does that jive with the demographics report.

Closing any of the schools robs the neighborhood of its heart and soul, its very being.  The planning commission is trying very hard to build neighborhoods.  Lease out the classrooms to home schooling kids or day care.  Lease out the extra space because in a few years the district will need all of those school rooms again.

We have a state that is bankrupt.  We have looked at how to save money by closing a school.  Is there any criteria for making money by closing a school.  Also, it would be sad to drive up and down main street and not see the all American school, the tree, the flag, it is comforting.

This process has steamed ahead of parent input.  If the Board knew the depths of the parental concerns, the Board would look for other options.  Include parents in the process.  Do not make a decision until parent input has been obtained and look at new solutions to bringing in new students and revenue.

Closing two schools now is one too many.  The criteria of the school closure committee should reflect the educational part of the building, how that school has done in the community.  After public comment, the Board should share information such as how much money will be obtained from the schools closed.  Another way to raise money is to sell the playgrounds to the city as parks.

The numbers indicate all of the schools cannot be maintained anymore.  Trust in the numbers and the work of the district and committee.  It is better to close a school and work on what is left.

This situation is a perfect example of the enigma of vast multiplicity.  The culture is very busy measuring the things that can be measured whether it matters or not, and does a poor job of assessing what cannot be measured and is very important.  Letís not close two schools right away. 

Only one school should be closed.  The parks, playgrounds, historic value of Ashland and the livability of the town will be affected by school closures.  Lincoln was the school that was previously scheduled to be remodeled first, and that is the school that should be closed.  Monitor the enrollment and set numbers earlier for the second school.  The town needs to support whatever decision is made, and it is crucial that the Activities Levy be passed.

Capacity is important, and closing one or two schools does make a difference.  Some of the factors reflect the best one could do with a lot of intangibles that were not objective enough.  How can anything be more important than how education is delivered in a school?  The criteria could be the best one could do if you didnít want to be subjective.  Look at the cost of closure.  Consider the opportunity cost. 

We shouldnít close schools.  We should think of a better way.  Look at the education and not the parking lots and stuff.

The committee responded to questions from the Board.  The Board asked for the recommendation from the School Closure Committee.  The schools were ranked for closure in the following order:  Briscoe, Lincoln, Bellview,  Walker, Helman.

Chair Maurer invited the School Closure Committee members to the December 9 regular school board meeting at which time the Board will make a decision on school closures.

IV. Adjournment
 
 There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 9:07 p.m.
 
Jeanne Peterson, Executive Secretary


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