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Public can weigh in on Coos Bay schools.

Byline: LARRY BACON The Register-Guard

COOS BAY - The Coos Bay School Board will begin taking public comments tonight on a proposed reconfiguration that would eliminate two elementary schools and change the student makeup at its two middle schools for the 2002-03 school year.

The first of two hearings is set for 6:30 p.m. at Sunset Middle School. A second hearing will be held at the same time April 10 at Millicoma Middle School. The board plans to act on the proposal at its April 15 meeting.

The changes were recommended by a 20-member committee that has been studying since February how best to streamline Coos Bay School District operations to save money.

School officials expect to cut operating costs by $1.5 million to $2.5 million or more next school year, with reductions expected toward the higher end of that range if district voters turn down state Ballot Measure 13.

The measure would allow the Legislature to tap a rainy-day state school endowment fund to lessen the impact of an expected drop in state school support.

The state expects to have $112 million less for schools even if the measure passes. If it fails, the reduction is expected to be $332 million.

"Given the magnitude of this financial crisis, we have got to have our elementary schools and middle schools at 90 to 100 percent of capacity," said Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Lyon, who will take the helm of the district July 1 when Superintendent Giles Parker retires.

The two middle schools are now at 80 percent capacity and three of the five elementary schools are only 60 percent to 80 percent full, Lyon said, calling that situation "a luxury the district can no longer afford."

He said the reconfiguration recommended by the committee would save the district an estimated $500,000 to $750,000 per year. Even if it's approved, he said, it would leave the district facing the prospect of having to additional major cuts to make to balance the budget. The district budget committee begins that task on May 15.

"We're in deeper trouble than we could ever imagine if that measure goes down," Lyon said.

The current financial problems come on the heels of budget cutting a year ago that included closing Milner Crest Elementary School.

"Last year, there was a kind of disbelief we would ever talk about school closures," Lyon said. "This year it's an inevitability."

The committee membership included school administrators, teachers, city officials, parents and employee union representatives.

It didn't recommend which elementary schools to close but said the district's largest elementary school, Blossom Gulch, should remain open.

It proposed that Millicoma Middle School take all students in grades five and six and that Sunset Middle School take all students in grades seven and eight. Each school now has sixth- , seventh- and eighth-graders and the district's fifth-graders attend elementary schools.

The district would save about $250,000 per year for each school that is closed, Lyon said. He estimated that closing two schools would eliminate two administrative jobs, eight to 10 teaching jobs and an undetermined number of non-teaching jobs.

The advantages of the reconfiguration, he said, include savings achieved by more efficient operation and grouping all students in the same grade level in the same building.

However, from an educational standpoint, he said, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. He said the downside includes:

Losing the small-school atmosphere that has proven educationally beneficial in the elementary schools.

Relocating a number students, which is disruptive to the educational process.

Creating longer school bus rides - 20 minutes or more one way - for many middle school students.

Eliminating opportunities for some seventh- and eighth-graders to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities because they will all be at one school rather than two, thereby reducing the number of openings for sports teams, music groups and other activities.

This year, Lyon said, school officials will definitely have to make budget cuts they know will hurt children, "which is not a good position to be in."

He said he expects considerable opposition to the proposed reconfiguration from parents, teachers, and others at the public hearings.

The district's financial problems are primarily the result of a "double whammy," Lyon said, which includes reductions in state funding for schools and declining enrollment, which costs the district about $5,400 annually for each student it loses.

The district's enrollment of 3,718 is down about 100 students from last year and 761 since 1994.

Further decreases are expected, including maybe another 100 students next year, Lyon said. By 2010, he said, district enrollment is projected to be 3,181 students.

There was consideration last year of closing two schools instead of one elementary school, he said, but in the face of much public opposition, the board chose to close only one.

But, even if two schools had been closed last year, the district would have been looking to close more this year, he said.

COOS BAY SCHOOLS RECONFIGURATION PROPOSAL

What it would do: Close two of five elementary schools, have all fifth- and sixth-graders attend Millicoma Middle School and all seventh- and eighth-graders attend Sunset Middle School.

Estimated savings: $500,000 to $750,000 annually.

Public hearings: Tonight, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Sunset Middle School, 851 Michigan Ave.; April 10, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Millicoma Middle School, 260 Second Ave.

Board decision: Expected at its April 15 meeting, 7 p.m., Council Chamber, City Hall, 500 Central Ave.
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Title Annotation:Budget: The school board proposal would close two elementary schools.; Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 3, 2002
Words:920
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