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The Press Newspaper

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The Oregon City School District’s decision to close Wynn Elementary School next year, and eliminate busing for high school students is firm, according to Superintendent Mike Zalar.

“The decision has been made,” said Zalar. “We’re trying to get information out to parents regarding what the changes are going to mean for the next semester. We’re trying to have the minimal impact on teaching and learning in the classroom. There’s no direct impact on the classroom with the elimination of busing for high school students and closing an elementary building.”

Some parents have raised concerns about the cuts since Nov. 29, when the board eliminated seven teaching positions, announced the closure of Wynn, which has an enrollment of 287 students, and eliminated busing for high school students to cut $2.8 million from the budget.

Parents worried about both issues have held meetings with the superintendent in hopes that the district will find other ways to cut the budget.

“Obviously, there are some parents who live in the district who do not want to see their elementary school close. So there’s disappointment about that. But we haven’t really received a great deal of negative feedback about it,” said Zalar.

The cuts were made in the wake of the defeat of a 5.9-mill emergency levy on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The district faces a $2 million deficit for the 2011-2012 school year. The levy would have brought in $3.4 million annually.

The district had issued a position statement last summer that outlined plans to reduce the operating budget by $2 million for the 2011-2012 school year if the levy did not pass. Those cuts included closing an elementary school and/or reconfigure the district, and eliminating bus service for high school students. It also included cutting 20 additional teaching and staff positions, eliminating the Career & Tech program, reducing kindergarten from all day every day to all day every other day, increasing athletic participation fees, and reducing cleaning services to buildings.

The board decided later that all day every day kindergarten will continue next year.

“We were open and honest with people by issuing the position statement,” said School Board President Diane Karoly. “People wanted to know where we stood. It is a reality. We have to work with the budget. I think we’re getting a better hold on the budget and trying to stabilize it. These are not easy decisions to make.”

In the last three years, the school board has cut $8 million from the operating budget.

Wynn Elementary School students will go to Jerusalem Elementary School in the next school year.

Karoly said there is a transition team in place in preparation of closing Wynn.

“There’s a lot to prepare for when closing a school. They will be transitioning in the summer. At this time, everyone will be assigned to go to Jerusalem. There could perhaps be some intra-district considerations, but for the most part, most of the students will need to go to Wynn,” said Karoly.

The district will save approximately $450,000 annually by closing Wynn, and $453,000 per year by eliminating bus service for high school students, she said.

Only 10 percent of students who use bus service in the district are high school students, according to Karoly.

“Then there are less of them who ride home in the evening because they participate in extracurricular events after school. The idea is to preserve the classroom. We’re not trying to cause hardship on parents. We’re trying to make sure we educate their children,” said Karoly.

Zalar said no busses will be idle as a result of cutting service to high school students. “The hours of the bus drivers will be reduced. We’re still going to need the same amount of busses,” he said.

The district faced an $18 million deficit in four years had the board not made cuts in the budget, said Karoly. “That would have been tremendous. Now, we’re looking much better in what we’re doing,” she said. “But we’re going to eventually need more revenue, that’s all there is to it.”

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