By DAN SPATZ
The Dalles Chronicle
MOSIER -- A group of Mosier parents have formed a group to come up with ways to save the Mosier Elementary School from closure in the 2002-03 school year.
During a citizens' meeting at the school Wednesday night, it seemed clear the fate of the school hangs on what happens to Measure 13 in the May primary election. That measure would take $220 million from a school trust fund and distribute it to schools in the state. The Chenowith district (D-9) anticipates it will make a difference of about $440,000 in its budget for next year. The message for D-9 seems pretty clear. If Measure 13 is approved, the school in Mosier will stay open although there will be other budget cuts. If it fails, Mosier Elementary School (MES) will close -- unless the district can somehow come up with around $100,000 through private efforts. Carole Schmidt, who facilitated the meeting, said without the money from the trust fund the district will face a deficit of around $450,000 in the 2002-03 school year. The amount needed to run the Mosier School is $602,000 in the current budget and is estimated at $587,000 for 2002-03, leaving a difference of more than $100,000. She said that Supt. John Dallum, who was at the Wednesday meeting, has indicated he will support keeping the school open if the people in Mosier can come up with $100,000.
No specific ideas were offered on how to do this, but there was mention that the Enterprise School district is asking citizens there to come up with private money to avoid deep cuts. Several people at the meeting expressed optimism that this could be done in Mosier as well, which would give the district time to hopefully find a permanent funding solution.
The committee is not wasting any time and planned to meet on April 11 and wants to have at least something to offer to the D-9 budget committee when it meets for the next time on tonight. Out of the 54 people who put their names on a sign-up sheet at the meeting, about a third said they had children currently in the Mosier School and about the same number said they had attended MES themselves. However, the sentiment to keep the Mosier School open was not unanimous. John Phillip, a former member of the D-9 board who resigned earlier this year, said the Mosier School was past its prime, was not up to ADA standards and it would be too expensive to bring it up to those standards. He said the land that the building was sitting on was worth more than the school, and the district might best be served by locating a new school somewhere else in the Mosier Valley. Another person at the meeting suggested that the building's age (80 years) might be an advantage, and if it had historical landmark designation, there might be some grant or other money available to bring it back into good condition. Dallum cautioned thad if the building was remodeled it probably would have to be ADA compatable and that could get expensive. Another citizen, Paulette Brook, who works at Wahtonka High, said she would prefer to see the school closed and the money saved used to bring back some of the programs at Wahtonka High School.
She said students there have "next to nothing" when it comes to class choice, no foreign language, no art, no shop classes. She said juniors and seniors are being sent home early because there is no classes for them.
There was also some mention that the district might have to face closure of the school for one year until funding issues are resolved or to organize a charter school, but Dallum noted that "once the doors of a building were were closed, in all probability it is closed for good." Turning Mosier into a charter school was mentioned often, but it was noted this was a long process and could not be done in time for the 2002-03 school year. Members of the audience noted that in some ways MES already resembles a charter school, such as the school music program which was started with private funding after it was cut from the budget last year. There was some talk of how many of the 82 students would move on to classes in The Dalles if MES was closed, but there were no firm numbers were available although a survey is being taken.