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Six Eugene Schools May Close

November 4, 2010

By KEZI 9 News Staff

EUGENE, Ore. — Six Eugene schools could close after 4J Superintendent George Russell unveiled his plan to try and balance the district’s budgets.

Here’s a look at the six schools that could be shut down:

  1. Coburg Elementary in the city of Coburg, it has 116 students.
  2. Crest Elementary is located in south Eugene, it has 263 kids enrolled.
  3. Meadowlark Elementary is near Sheldon High School and has 200 students.
  4. Parker Elementary is in south Eugene, it has 260 students.
  5. Twin Oaks Elementary is in west Eugene, it has 216 students
  6. Family school, on 22nd near Chambers, has 147 students.

So where would all the kids go?

Several schools would have to shift to K-3 and 4-8 models.  Adams, Bertha Holt, Ceasar Chavez, Edgewood, and McCornack Elementary schools would all go to K-3.  The Arts and Technology Academy at Jefferson, Spencer Butte, Kennedy, and Monroe Middle Schools would all become 4-8 schools.

Russell is also proposing eliminating 100 teachers, cutting 62 administrative jobs, negotiating a 5% reduction in salaries, cutting 6 school days and cutting athletics and extracurricular activities by 25%.  Those are just a few of the cuts and changes proposed in the plan.

Russell says he’s saddened by the cuts he proposed last night and says trimming $30 million off the budget is no easy task.  He says he made the cuts he thought were necessary but says every resource schools lose affects the students.

“This is cutting away stuff we really can’t afford  to cut because it really does cut into the educational program we provide for our kids,” said George Russell, 4J Superintendent.

The public will have a number of opportunities to weigh in with their opinions in the upcoming weeks.

4J will hold a public hearing Tuesday November 16, and another at their board meeting November 17.

The superintendent will present final recommendations in December and the school board will have the final decision in January.

Parents, teachers and principals are all reacting differently to the news.

At Coburg Elementary, teachers and parents are bracing for the worst.  The principal says the 4J School District has faced cuts for years, still parents and faculty say they pride themselves on their tight-knit school district in tiny Coburg.

“I think when we look at what’s happening with Coburg, it really is about community and families,” said Joane Butler, Coburg Elementary Principal.

The 116 students here would have to attend Gilham Elementary School in Eugene if they closed.

Parents and faculty here say the proposed closures don’t come as a surprise, but the news is still hard to swallow.

“This is a great school.  My son’s a fifth grader.  My daughter’s going to go into kindergarten, but we’re being proactive and we’re seeing what we can do about keeping our school open,” said Sarah Burris.

Faculty met with parents all along to discuss budget cuts and to devise a back up plan.  They say if their school closes they will propose opening a charter school for the area.

Coburg Elementary says their special proposal would need to be turned in by December 15, even though a final decision by 4J Superintendent George Russell isn’t expected until January.

Also on the chopping block the Family School which is housed in the Arts and Technology Academy in west Eugene.  The family school isn’t your typical neighborhood school.

“I thought it was important for them to be with a group of kids whose families felt eating organically, treating the earth well and significantly limiting media was important for kids to have a healthy development with healthy self esteem,” said Erica Hernandez.

Right now the Family School and Arts and Technology Academy (ATA) are in the same building.

Under the proposed cuts, Family School Students kindergarten through third would be moved to Cesar Chavez Elementary.  Family School students fourth through eighth would merge with the ATA.  At the same time, ATA students kindergarten through third would be moved to Adams elementary.

The school’s principal says if all that happens he’d like to see the ideals of the family school continue.

“There’s a lot of value to the Family School program that I would want to see that we would try to integrate some of those components with whatever school is left here,” said Jeff Johnson,  Family School Principal.

Parents say they’re disappointed their kids may be to move to another school, especially since they specifically chose the family school to meet their child’s needs.

“This would be a huge loss to families like ours who can’t afford to send our children to Waldorf or private school but don’t’ really want an education which has a heavy media center,” Hernandez said.

Meadowlark Elementary is also one of the six that may have to shut its doors.

The plan would send some Meadowlark students to Holt Elementary.  Holt would become a K-3rd grade school, Meadowlark 4th and 5th graders would move to Monroe, which would become a 4-8 middle school.

“Children just aren’t ready. They’re not emotionally mature enough to mix with the middle schoolers.  And so that is a concern of mine,” said Julie Testi.

“It’s not going to allow for a really fluid string of leadership for the parent organizations,” said Blaine Hlebechuk.

“I feel confident that the school board will make the right decision for our region and for our school,” said Juan Cuadros.

The plan also calls for Buena Vista to become a K-8 spanish immersion school and to stay at the Meadowlark building.

As for the combined staff of 30 at both Meadowlark and Buena Vista, the principal tells us they are working with the hr department to come up with a plan to deal with this possible enormous shift.

The proposed plan calls for the complete shutdown Eugene’s Parker Elementary in the South Hills and to move its 261 students to Edgewood and Spencer Butte.

Some Parker students would move to Edgewood Elementary, and Edgewood would become a K-3 school.

Parker 4th and 5th graders would move to Spencer Butte Middle School, and Spencer Butte would become a 4-8 grade school.

“It would be very inconvenient to have to go to another school, and it’s hard for my son and all the other kids to have to uproot,” said Heather Benz.

“They’re already missing enough school with all those furlough days and what not.  How are they supposed to keep up when they’re being cut back?” said Cassandra Swoboda.

“We have to create the best programs for our kids. Staff are behind it.  Parents are behind it.  We’re still going to make this a great year for our kids,” said Scott Marsh, Parket Elementary School Principal.

In addition, the Charlemagne French Immersion School would move into the Parker building and become a K-8 immersion school.

Marsh told KEZI he is having a meeting with parents at Parker Elementary Thursday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.  At that time, he will go over the proposal and answer any questions parents might have.

At Crest Drive Elementary in south Eugene, the closures are so hotly contested by parents that the school would not comment.

Parents chose Crest Drive because it’s known for good teachers, academics and personal attention.

If the school closed, Kindergarten through 3rd grade there would end up going to Adams Elementary School, and The Arts and Technology Academy would become grades 4-8, absorbing the rest of Crest Drive’s students.

“They’re pretty upset about it because we finally get comfortable in a school.  It’s kind of hard to believe they want to kind of split them up now, farming them all off,” said Kimberly Bethune.

“I read that first line from the superintendent saying, ‘We want to make all decisions on the best interest for all children.’  And this doesn’t seem this is it.  We’re getting poorer quality education,” said Patricia Hutchings.

Crest Drive Elementary plans on holding a meeting with parents at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Another small school that facing closure is Twin Oaks Elementary.  Parents there say they have many questions and not enough answers as of now, because the consolidation shifts students in many different directions.

The proposal would send the Kindergarten, first, second and third graders to McCornack Elementary.

Their fourth and fifth graders would go to Kennedy Middle School, and Kennedy Middle School would turn into a 4-8 school.

For parents just introducing their kids to school for the first time, it’s daunting.

“Now we have a kindergarten coming in with a deficit of $30 million initially in her first year is rather concerning.  And to be able to go well, what are we doing and how are we doing it?  We just have absolutely no idea,” Amanda Deedon.

“When you’re trying to make up a $30 million shortfall, none of the options look good, but what we need to continue to do is what’s best for kids given this difficult situation,” said Larry Soberman, Twin Oaks Principal.

The smallest class size at Twin Oaks is 27 students, and many more already have 30-plus students in them.

Soberman already considers those numbers high, and the classes will be much larger when sent to other area schools.

Faculty and parents will continue to meet to work details out as the superintendent decides what’s next.

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