Cascade Locks School boundary change proponents move ahead

January 14, 2012

The Cascade Locks Community School Committee is ready to make the next step in a proposal to move Cascade Locks into the Corbett School District.

The committee held a meeting at Cascade Locks Marine Park Pavilion Wednesday with about three dozen people in attendance, including several representatives from Corbett School District.

The committee is using a relatively unused portion of Oregon law, which allows for school district boundaries to be changed or moved through a petition process or school district board action.

Connie Kennedy-Buttaccio, head advisor for the committee, said the committee is finalizing its petition forms and could be ready to hit the street with them in two weeks.

However, she added that the committee wants to give Hood River County School District the opportunity to work with the committee through district board action first.

Committee president George Fischer said he was pleased with how the meeting went, and that it furthered his impression that a K-12 school is necessary for the town's economy to recover.

At the meeting, he read an email from George Sorte, an economic advisor to the governor who gave a presentation in Cascade Locks last month, saying that having a school in the community is one of the most important factors to keeping a community vibrant.

Kennedy-Buttaccio requested time at the next Hood River County School District board meeting to give a presentation on the merger goals and process, and District Supt. Charlie Beck said he would grant the request to present.

She has also requested the opportunity to give a presentation for students and staff at Cascade Locks School in the school gym.

Both sides have been working out their legal options in recent months should the process move forward.

Kennedy-Buttaccio said the lawyer the committee hired to draft the petition is in the final stages of the process, and Beck said that the HRCSD has consulted with its legal counsel to find out how things should proceed.

Beck said he didn't want to speak for the board on whether the school district would agree to the change through board action, or force it to go through the petition process.

"It's one of those things where we'll have to wait and see," he said.

The boundary change proposal is the latest in a history of difficulties between Cascade Locks and the school district. The district moved high school students to Hood River Valley High School in 2008, moved seventh and eighth graders to Hood River Middle School this year, and will also move sixth graders to Hood River next year.

The end result will be a K-5 school with 50 or fewer students.

"They shut down Pine Grove with 143 students and Cascade Locks only has about 60 students now," Kennedy-Buttaccio said. "How will they afford to keep it open as much as they say they want to? They need an influx of students in Cascade Locks."

(Pine Grove no longer functions as a K-5 elementary school, but it houses the early intervention/early childhood programs, and is also home to two separate pre-schools serving nearly 30 students.)

She said a move to Corbett would bring such an influx, with a 200-student waiting list to get in to Corbett.

"People could go to Cascade Locks and get a Corbett education," she said.

However, Beck believes that the best option for Cascade Locks is to stay with Hood River County.

"We believe we are the best option to provide an education for the students of Cascade Locks," he said. "We have a plan to have a K-5 there and have middle school and comprehensive students have a comprehensive education (in Hood River). But we are willing to listen to what they have to say."

Kennedy-Buttaccio and the Cascade Locks committee will present either during the work session or during the meeting of the Hood River County School board on Jan. 25.

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