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Nancy Mccarthy of The Skanner
Published: 29 March 2006

There are a few more opportunities for residents to discuss the Portland Public Schools budget, which may call for the closure of some schools and the re-creation of kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools.

The school board and Portland Public Schools Superintendent Vicki Phillips are grappling with a budget shortfall of $57 million. Almost $40 million — 12 percent of the district's $329 million budget — is from the loss of the 1.25 percent Multnomah County income tax, which expired last year.

A Citizens Review Committee will discuss the budget at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 30, in school administration building's Elevator Conference Room, 501 N. Dixon St.

Phillips will present her budget plan to the Portland school board during a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 3, in the district administration building.

Following Monday's meeting, Phillips may schedule another meeting or news conference on Tuesday to discuss a proposed "reconfiguration" of the district's schools. The school board is scheduled to adopt a budget on April 24. It then will go on the Portland City Council, which also needs to approve it. Portland and Multnomah County have agreed to help the district with one-year-only allocations that may total about $21 million.

A draft of a plan, leaked to the media a few weeks ago, calls for the closure of 11 schools and the modification of 27 middle and elementary schools into kindergarten-through-eighth grade campuses.

Schools suggested for closure in the draft plan are Humboldt, Stephenson, Creston, Bridger, Astor and Hollyrood in 2006, and Rieke, Sitton, Woodmere, Rose City and Llewellyn in 2007.

Although Phillips has said the list leaked to the media was only a draft and one of several potential options, some schools have already begun planning for potential changes.

Astor School, for instance, is proposing that it become a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school. A recent Astor Site Council survey of 144 parents indicated that if Astor studentsmovedto Portsmouth Middle School, which would become a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school, only 16 would remain in the program, 21 would transfer, 30 would move, 23 would send their children to private school and 20 would teach their children at home.

However, if a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school were created at Astor, 128 of the parents said they would keep their children there, four would transfer and 12 said they would move. Eleven of those 12 parents had children in the fifth grade and said they wanted to keep their children in a middle school. However, another 40 of the parents whose children were in fifth grade said they would continue at Astor even if it became a kindergarten-though-eighth grade school.

If Astor remained open, none of the parents said they would switch to a private school or teach their children at home.
The proposal notes that Astor began as a K-8 school and remained that way for 40 years. The school has enough classrooms to accommodate the change as well as a gym, lockers, a cafeteria with a stage and enough space for portable classrooms, according to a report produced by Principal John Walden, the Astor Site Council and the Astor PTA.

Keeping the school open would increase the number of students remaining in North Portland for grades six through eight and likely continuing on to Roosevelt High School, the report said.

The changes could be made by next fall, according to the proposal.

"It will involve a great deal of planning on the part of the Astor staff and site council, but our staff is excited to take on this challenge, and our fifth-grade parents have indicated a high percentage of student commitment to continue next year at an Astor K-8," the report adds.

In creating her budget plan, Phillips has outlined several goals. She wants to preserve the core curriculum of math, science, language arts, art, music and wellness. She wants to stabilize the schools and reduce the number of future budget cuts, and she hopes to increase the accountability and performance of the central administrative staff.

Phillips also wants to:

• Avoid shifting administrative work, such as payroll, to the schools;

• Offer a high value at a reasonable cost;

• Preserve the schools' capacity to improve teaching and learning;

• Preserve the operations critical to the district's mission;

• Meet all legislative requirements for serving students;

• Preserve support for English as a Second Language/Special Education curriculum;
• Align a limited staff with necessary services;

• Maintain a balance of the neighborhoodpopulation that attends the neighborhood schools. Currently about 30 percent of students inlocalneighborhoods choose to attend other elementary schools and 40 percent choose to attend high schools outside their areas.

• Create a school size to support a "robust" curriculum;

• Think creatively about forming different and successful schools, such as kindergarten-through-eighth grade schools; and

• Plan for enrollment trends: The district expects an enrollment drop from 47,000 students to 44,000 students in the next two years. This continues an ongoing decline in enrollment in Portland Public Schools: In 1970, about 81,000 students attended Portland schools.

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