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Decision awaited on school leagues.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

Anxious parents, students and officials in the Eugene School District will learn Friday whether Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo sides with a hearings officer's endorsement of the Oregon School Activities Association's realignment plan for high school athletics.

And if she does back the plan - as district officials expect she will - the district will go ahead with an appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals, Superintendent George Russell said at Wednesday's school board meeting.

Castillo, who lives in Eugene, will announce her decision at 1 p.m. Friday, Gene Evans, spokesman for the Department of Education, said Wednesday. She has the final authority to accept or alter the order.

"I think it's really taken a toll on her," Evans said. `She can't go to the grocery store without getting pinned up against the avocados by someone saying, `Don't make our kids go to Medford.' '

The preliminary order from the hearings officer, released last week, effectively sided with the OSAA, which faced challenges from the Eugene, Medford and Salem-Keizer districts. All three said the plan would push up transportation costs and force students to miss too much time from school traveling for league sports contests.

Eugene officials say their students would be the most affected by the increased travel time, as well as the loss of longtime cross-town rivalries.

Under the OSAA plan, South Eugene and Sheldon high schools would be Class 6A schools. Enrollment at those schools exceeds the 1,521-student cutoff used by the OSAA to determine which schools belonged in the largest classification.

The proposal would place South Eugene and Sheldon into a league with Roseburg, Grants Pass, South Medford and North Medford. The remaining five Eugene and Springfield high schools would be placed in one league for smaller, Class 5A schools.

Prior to Wednesday's meeting, the school board met with attorney Joel DeVore in closed session to discuss developments in the case and the possibility of an appeal. Russell said the board authorized him to go ahead and file if Castillo's decision supports the OSAA plan, although any resolution will almost surely come too late for the 2006-07 school year. Athletic directors around the state have already scheduled games, under the new league system, through winter.

The board and Russell have heard from dozens of parents and students during the past several months, some of whom have suggested pulling out of the OSAA. But he doesn't recommend that, given that it would prohibit league competition in athletics as well as cheerleading, debate and other activities.

Russell said the additional cost of a court appeal "would probably be in the neighborhood of about $20,000," on top of $118,000 incurred in the fight so far. In addition, the OSAA proposal has cost the district about $14,460 in staff time, spokeswoman Barb Bellamy said. The board on Wednesday approved a $130,000 transfer from the contingency fund to cover the costs, which exceed what the district typically sets aside for legal fees.

Russell said he doesn't know if it breaks a district record, but he believes it's the most expensive legal case since he became superintendent in 1998.

There's been discussion about whether it's worth it, he said, especially given that the issue revolves around sports, not academics. But in weighing the up-front legal costs against the potential damage to students and fiscal impact on the district, he said neither he nor board members are ready to throw in the towel.

District officials have estimated the additional transportation costs at more than $66,000 a year. As much as $50,000 could be lost in lower gate receipts.
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Title Annotation:Schools; Superintendent Susan Castillo will announce her decision on the OSAA plan Friday
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 8, 2006
Words:607
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