Central Point may lay off 30 teachers

Continuing the dismal procession of employee layoffs at Oregon public schools, the Central Point School District announced Tuesday it would likely lay off about 30 teachers by the end of the academic year and close one of its groundbreaking small high schools to help offset a $4.3 million budget deficit.

"It's a tragedy losing innovative young teachers that will likely never come back to public education," said Central Point schools Superintendent Randy Gravon, referring to employment contracts that require the district to lay off teachers with the least seniority. "This problem (education funding rollbacks) is going to be around for a while, and most of these people aren't going to wait around for public education."

The 30 teachers have not yet been notified who they are. That will happen by the end of April, Gravon said.

The district of about 4,500 pupils also has proposed closing the Crater Academy of Natural Science, one of four small schools at the Crater High School campus in Central Point. The Central Point School Board authorized district administrators to move forward on a more detailed plan to absorb the natural science students into Crater's other three small schools: Renaissance Academy, Academy of Health and Public Services and School of Business, Innovation and Science. Natural science Principal Tom Rambo would be reassigned to another position in the district, Gravon said.

Gravon said the natural science school was chosen for elimination because it's most important components, the agriculture program and environmental science laboratory, could easily be relocated.

Crater administrators have proposed placing the environmental science laboratory in the Renaissance School, which is an arts-based school. The agriculture program likely will be split between two schools. More details will be determined by the end of April, said Renaissance Principal Bob King.

Eleven to 12 of the 30 layoffs will be at Crater, Gravon said.

King said the high school would endeavor to keep the theme-based education and small school atmosphere that has helped to engage students in education, improve attendance and boost test scores, but with such deep cuts, it'll have a different look. The idea behind the pioneering small schools movement bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other supporters is that a smaller group of students and teachers help students feel more connected to school and increases accountability. The themes are intended to captivate students with topics that are interesting to them and add threads of that to core subjects such as math, science, reading and writing.

Crater joined the movement about four years ago and had begun to reap some dividends in test scores and attendance, said Central Point schools education director Samantha Steele.

"I just am really, really sad that it has come to this," said board member June Brock. "We worked so hard to get the four schools off the ground and operating. ... Here we are tearing it down."

The schools' principals said they plan to modify the themes of the schools next year to try to pique the interests of the students from the natural sciences schools.

But natural science students expressed anxiety about the change.

"We all got to know each other so it's going to be sad to split up and go to different schools," said natural science freshman Cali Drake.

Natural science freshman Claire Gladman said she values the natural science academy's agriculture program and will likely choose her next small school based on whether it hosts the agriculture program.

The Crater proposal follows proposals to close Sams Valley Elementary School and to merge Patrick Elementary and Hanby Middle School. Under the cost-cutting proposal fifth-graders from Sams Valley and Patrick elementary schools would attend Hanby Middle School and pupils in grades K-4 from Sams Valley would go to Patrick. Hanby and Patrick also would share an administrator. (Clarification: This paragraph has been updated to reflect the details of the proposal accurately.)

Although Central Point officials maintain no decisions are final yet, the principals of those three campuses already have been told they will be reassigned to teaching positions, Gravon said.

Gravon said even though there were multiple unknowns about state education funding and the outcome of collective bargaining with teachers and support staff beginning April 27, the district has to have its plans in order to deliver a balanced budget by June 30, as mandated by state law.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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