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Board hears plea for schools

Ashland residents tell members they don't want Briscoe and Lincoln closed

ASHLAND ' Despite an emotional outpouring of support for Briscoe and Lincoln elementary schools Monday night, both buildings still could close in June.

Their fates will be decided next week by the Ashland School Board.

Ashland is considering closing up to two elementary schools to save money, and the committee charged withranking the city's five elementary schools presented its findings to the school board during a work session at the high school.

More than 200 people attended the meeting, and 20 residents spoke out both for and against the recommendation that Briscoe should be the first to close, followed by Lincoln.

With tears streaming down her face, 11-year-old Katie Parker pleaded with the school board and the School Closure Committee to reconsider the committee's recommendations.

I don't think we should close schools. I think we can think of a better way, said Parker, an Ashland Middle School student and former Briscoe student. Think about education, not parking spaces.

But others urged the school board to move forward with the closures.

This is inevitable, said Kimberly Brauhn, whose child attends Bellview Elementary. We need to pull together and come together as three new schools.

Declining enrollment, shifting demographics and scarce funding prompted the proposal to close at least one' and possibly two ' elementary schools.

School officials estimate they'll save &

36;300,000 a year for each school they close.

The closure committee ranked the schools on criteria including classroom size, attendance, safety, parking and maintenance. Briscoe and Lincoln consistently scored lowest on the scale.

I think the numbers were as bad as estimated, maybe even worse, said committee member Ellie Thivierge, who called the entire experience heartbreaking.

However, the committee was taken aback by member Polly Griest. Griest, who represents Briscoe on the committee, called the findings sloppy, inaccurate and rushed.

She claimed the numbers had been calculated incorrectly, although she acknowledged that the mistakes didn't change the rankings.

The committee's data is flawed, Griest said during an impassioned speech in which she quoted the Beatles and J.R.R. Tolkien. We cannot afford to make a decision of this magnitude on such a faulty foundation.

Audience members gave her a standing ovation, but the rest of the committee questioned Griest's timing.

This is the first time we've heard about your concerns, and that's disheartening, Thivierge told Griest.

All I can say is that I've been working up until the last minute, Griest replied.

The majority of the speakers pleaded with officials to keep both schools open.

It gave him the perfect launch for his education base, parent Patricia Zoline said of her son, who now attends Ashland High School. Briscoe is where that all began.

Closing any of these schools just robs a neighborhood of its heart and soul, said Ashland Planning Commission member Marilyn Briggs. In a few years, in the long term, you're going to need all the schools.

Residents offered suggestions including bringing in students from Medford or making cuts at all five elementary schools.

After the comment session closed, committee member Lyle Halprin said many of the issues raised by residents already had been discussed. He wanted to know why some speakers waited until now to come forward.

You've all had an opportunity to come to these meetings, Halprin said. A lot of things that people came up and had concerns about, we discussed. — I'm just sick that people in this community are relying on half truths and innuendoes.

Monday night marked the last opportunity for public comment regarding the proposed closures. The school board will vote to close one, both or neither schools during its regular meeting Monday, Dec. 9.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail