On Feb. 23, 8-year-old Mollie Terkelson brought a printed notice home from her third grade class at Sams Valley Elementary School. Grandma Marlene Terkelson read in dismay her first inkling of Central Point District’s possible cost-cutting measures: Severe budget shortfalls may require closing Mollie’s school this June. The notice advised community members of a meeting at the school regarding the matter. If the closure occurs, Mollie and classmates could transfer to Gold Hill’s Patrick Elementary, or Central Point’s Jewett for the next two years. Mollie, and Marlene, whose three sons also went to Sams Valley Elementary, oppose the transfer.
Also vocal in opposition to the closure, Lance Weaver sprang into action. The parent of five, two of whom attend Sams Valley School, Weaver organized an ad hoc gathering at Rainey’s Market on March 2. Petitions seeking reconsideration collected signatures at store counters; Facebook postings aroused community concern; four dozen residents filled chairs set up in a back warehouse room where Weaver presided.
Rainey’s cashier, Courtney Sease sends a son and daughter to Sams Valley Elementary. “Class sizes now are just right. I love the teachers they have,” she said, “If they combine with Patrick, Jewett, or Hanby Middle School, they’ll pack more kids into each class. My kids are doing well in school now; I don’t want them to lose their confidence.”
Weaver echoed the sentiment that prevailed among the crowd. “I would do everything I can to keep SVE open,” he said. “It’s the center of our community, an excellent school, with excellent teachers. It’s an amazing family culture.”
Bill Bronson, whose two youngsters attend Kindergarten and second grade, liked living near the building for the children’s convenience.
“Mollie would have to get up at 5 a.m. instead of 6 to get ready for school if they switched her,” added Marlene Torkelson.” Others, from sections around East Evans Creek Rd. would ride for more than an hour longer by bus to Central Point, Weaver noted. “The School Board meets on March 8,” he continued. “We’re on the agenda for that. Just one or two people would be allotted time to speak, but perhaps we should show up in droves.”
Weaver stressed the need to present as calm and reasonable an attitude as possible. “Everyone’s upset; everyone’s losing to the budget cuts. It’s not just us. But with under 200 students we’ve got the smallest enrollment in a district that’s facing a huge shortfall.”
He encouraged thinking of ways we can help boost enrollment. Perhaps we need to entice some fifty home schoolers to come back, he said.
One audience member noted that Pinehurst School started out as a non-profit; “Maybe we could start a foundation, and get grants,” she said..
“In a meeting with District Superintendent Randy Gravon, I’ve been shown many potential scenarios,” Weaver replied. “The Board can’t make a decision until they know what (financial) hand they’re dealt.”
Reached for comment, Gravon stated that approximately 200 community members had attended the open meeting the prior week. It concerned the grim economic forecasts that might signal temporarily shutting SVE. “Some families have generations of members that studied there,” he said. “It’s an amazing community. The school, older than the district itself, enrolled 360 kids in the 1990’s. Now they have fewer than 200, and lost 50 more this year.”
He elaborated on budget scarcities, and requirements to comply with various restrictions. These include collective bargaining, bidding rules, prevailing wage regulations, and bus limitations. “One third of our bus fleet is over 20 years old. Sometimes we can’t transport pupils because we lack a bus to carry them. Right now we have to implement the most efficient use of sharply declining funds.”
He stressed that if the school were forced to close, it would be for a short term. He’d maintain a plan for building security so it could reopen, if funding permitted, in the next biennium.
By F. C. Blake
Of the Independent