School panel weighs options

The Three Rivers schools committee will continue to consider options today for trimming nearly $1.2 million from the school district budget, including three possible school closures.

Meanwhile, parents at the three schools — Applegate, Williams Elementary and Wolf Creek Elementary — are mobilizing to show support for saving their respective campuses.

"It's a shame the district wants to shut down small schools in small communities," said Ben Gambel, parent of a kindergartner and a fifth-grader at Williams and a seventh-grader at Applegate.

"The small environment is more conducive to education — small class sizes with more attention, more adult supervision and more opportunities for parents to get involved."

The 21-member Right Sizing Committee was appointed to suggest ways to make up losses in state funding caused by dwindling student enrollment.

The student population in the district, which includes rural Josephine County and southwest Jackson County, has dwindled by nearly 20 percent (from 6,600 to 5,300) in the past 10 years.

Applegate, the district's sole K-8 campus; Williams and Wolf Creek have the smallest enrollments at 114, 86 and 72, respectively.

Parents recently began organizing to urge the school board to scrap plans to close the schools and to present ways to diffuse costs to operate the campuses.

Williams held a community meeting Jan. 16, when about 100 people discussed committee proposals and recruited volunteers to donate time or money to offset the cost of operating the campus.

Applegate will hold a community meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at 14188 Highway 238.

"The main focus of the meeting is to make people aware that Applegate School is in jeopardy," Sandi Garoutte, committee member representing Applegate. "We are looking for volunteers to help enhance extracurricular activities and electives at the school. If we don't get enrollment up by appealing to alternative and home school students, we won't be able to remain open."

Williams community members began an e-mail campaign to press committee members, administrators and school board members to keep the school open.

Parents argued Williams ought to be spared, as it brings in more than $400,000 in additional state funding each year because it's considered a rural school, one that is more than 10 miles away from another public school campus.

"We plan to be at the meeting (Wednesday) wearing a T-shirt and holding a sign in support of the school," Gambel said.

The committee initially dismissed a proposal to shutter Wolf Creek, but that could be reconsidered today, committee members said. The possible closures of Applegate and Williams will also be discussed.

"Wolf Creek is still at risk," said Marcy Small, co-vice president of the Wolf Creek PTA. "The community is really behind keeping the school open. We are devastated at the thought of it closing."

Small launched the Save Our School committee last December to pressure the school board to allow Wolf Creek to continue to operate. Parents hope to make Wolf Creek into a charter school in fall 2009. They have already secured paint donations and volunteers to help paint the school, one less cost the district would have to worry about, Small said.

In surveys distributed at Williams and Wolf Creek, at least 50 parents who responded indicated they would home school or send their child to a charter or private school if their campus closed.

Parent Amber Guient said if Williams closes, she would home school her two children because she doesn't want them to have to ride the bus for more than an hour to Applegate, nor to attend a larger school.

The district administration has identified necessary repairs and upgrades for the schools to remain open that will cost about $1.5 million for Williams, $1.5 million for Wolf Creek and $1.8 million for Applegate, according to district estimates.

Garoutte said some of the improvements the district identified are unnecessary.

For instance, the administration identified razing the old Applegate school, built in 1910, which stands vacant at the front of the campus, she said. Demolishing the old school would cost an estimated $200,000.

"I understand the need to make efficiencies," Garoutte said. "I have a hard time swallowing them when they are presented as a requirement to have the school exist."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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