(This is an abridged version of the letter read by Buttaccio to the Hood River County School District Board on Wednesday; see article, page A1, for her further statements.)
From the time that Hood River County School District announced that it was considering closing the high school and perhaps the middle school in Cascade Locks, there was an outcry from the community begging the district not to take that step. The district was clear that this was purely a financial decision and had long stated that educating children in Cascade Locks cost the district over $2,000 more per student that it was spending on students in other schools in the district.
The district cited declining enrollment in Cascade Locks and that the economic realities of state funding had created this problem. Some stated that it was unfair to students in the rest of the district who had endured higher class sizes so that a K-12 school could continue in Cascade Locks offering some of the lowest class sizes in the district.
As a result of the decision to close the high school in 2009, many folks came together and formed the Cascade Locks Community School Committee with the main purpose and goal of re-establishing a K-12 school in Cascade Locks.
The committee's first efforts were centered around beginning a charter school in Cascade Locks.
You all were here when over 100 patrons from Cascade Locks gathered, begging you not to close the school, and you were all here when over 100 patrons asked you to reconsider your denial of the charter school.
Once again this committee is coming before you asking your support to re-establish a K-12 school in Cascade Locks. Due to the loss of federal funds, the state no longer provides financial support for the establishment of charter schools.
As a result, it appears that there are at least two other ways that a K-12 can be re-established in Cascade Locks. The first way is solely within your power as a board to accomplish. You can simply move the attendance boundary lines to assign more students to Cascade Locks K-12.
If the board is not willing to make that change even though it would re-establish a thriving K-12 school in Cascade Locks, then the committee is asking you support a different boundary change. This is our alternate request: Please consider and support a boundary change that would allow the community of Cascade Locks to withdraw from the Hood River County School District and be joined to the Corbett School District.
OR330 provides for two different ways that a boundary change can occur. One is for the two districts involved to agree to the change and obtain the agreement of the Boundary Board established by the state. This is the easiest and quickest way to make this kind of change.
That would mean that the school boards of Hood River County School District and the Corbett School District would pass a resolution supporting the change and agreeing on the distribution of property and the legal description of the division.
The second way is for petitioners to gather the signatures of 5 percent of the registered voters in the Corbett School District and the Hood River County School District and file the petitions with the county. This doesn't result in a vote of either district; nor an agreement on the legal description for the division. It is complicated, but very doable.
Our lawyer's opinion is that the petitions will become law unless another party petitions for a vote of both districts resulting in a majority of voters agreeing to the change.
There are many reasons why a merger of Cascade Locks with Corbett School District would be a win-win for the Hood River County School District, the Corbett School District and the community of Cascade Locks. Please consider a few of those tonight:
The cost of continuing a K-5 school in Cascade Locks. This district closed Pine Grove when records in January 2010 showed there were 143 students K-5, at a cost of $6,095 a student. Cascade Locks will have less than 60 students K-5 next year and 2010 records show that it cost $8,383 a student to educate 83 students. The parents and community of Pine Grove would have a right to complain loudly about the injustice of this situation.
Although this district says that it is committed to a K-5 in Cascade Locks, how long can it justify the expenditure sited above? What upheaval would be caused by closing the K-5 in Cascade Locks?
The continuing staff unrest about the future of the K-5 at Cascade Locks. A merger with Corbett would ensure that they would each have a position and keep their seniority. However, the district could chose to provide them jobs elsewhere in the district.
Students educated in small communities have many advantages. Research shows that "smaller schools provide benefits of reduced discipline problems, reduced truancy, reduced dropout rates, improved teacher and student attitudes, improved student self-perception, and their student academic achievement is equal or superior to that of students in larger schools, as well as increased parental involvement."
The community of Cascade Locks and Corbett are more similar that Hood River and Cascade Locks due to their size and other small community issues. Students of Bonneville, Dotson and Warrendale at one time attended high school in Cascade Locks. A merger with Corbett would reunite these areas.
Corbett School District is out of room in their schools and zoning prohibits additional building of homes in Corbett. Corbett can put the extra room in Cascade Locks to good use.
In summary, the Cascade Locks Community Schools Committee is asking that the Hood River County School District work with the Committee to write a resolution that would result in Cascade Locks withdrawing from the Hood River County School District and uniting with the Corbett School District. We ask that the board vote to support or not support this process at your next regularly scheduled board meeting.
Connie Kennedy Buttaccio is educational consultant for the Cascade Locks School Committee.