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Rogue River elementary school could be closed

ROGUE RIVER ' The school board once again is considering whether to close Evans Valley Elementary School.

Declining enrollment and state funding cutbacks have prompted the board to reconsider spending &

36;755,000 in bond money set aside for renovations to Evans Valley, the smallest of the district's four schools. The money is part of a &

36;5.38 million bond approved by voters in 2000.

Scheduled repairs at Evans Valley have been delayed for more than 18 months because of scheduling, budgeting and bidding issues. Meanwhile, enrollment there has dropped from more than 200 students to 180.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, member Dick Handbury said he was not confident that new bids on the renovations, due in January, would come in on budget. (August project bids came in 32 percent over budget.)

He also discussed new, non-budgeted repairs that have become necessary at other schools, including &

36;55,000 for a new boiler at Rogue River Elementary.

This bundle of money is as good as it's going to get for the foreseeable future, said Handbury. Look at some of the (remaining) money and look at the needs of the district. And I don't mean one school, I mean the whole district.

Rogue River Elementary School teacher Jim Fety, an active member of the bond-passage committee, urged the board to remember the original intent of the bond measure as well as the issues of declining enrollment and retiring teachers at Evans Valley.

Handbury in turn urged the board and the community to consider the fiscal state of the entire school district when considering how much money should be spent on a school that may ultimately be closed.

If we spend &

36;700,000, and if in three years we can't keep it (Evans Valley) open, how will the community look at spending the money? asked Handbury.

Board member Traycee Geddes is adamantly opposed to the closure of the elementary school.

I really believe closing Evans Valley will kill this district, Geddes said.

She said this issue was debated and resolved more than 15 months ago when the Rogue River and Wimer communities joined forces to demand the school remain open at a meeting in September 2001. The following month, the school board voted unanimously to keep the school open.

Geddes said the board made a promise to exhaust all other possibilities before considering closing Evans Valley and said the process of reviewing non-closure options has not even begun.

The board needs to have more work sessions. We meet once a month and that's not enough time to discuss these difficult and complicated matters, she said.

I'll meet in the evening and on weekends so we can come up with a better solution.

One solution Geddes said needs further consideration is a potential consolidation program between Rogue River and Wimer elementary schools until enrollment can be stabilized. She said having kindergarten through third grade at Evans Valley and the fourth and fifth grades at Rogue River Elementary could benefit both schools.

Geddes said even though overall enrollment is declining, some classes are too big.

Evans Valley currently has 32 students in fifth grade, 35 students in fourth grade and 31 in third grade, Geddes said. This plan allows us to keep both the schools open until dwindling enrollment is a thing of the past. It will also decrease class sizes for both schools and this is a good thing.

She has been working with the Vision Committee, a community action group composed of parents, teachers, administrators, business owners and community leaders striving to find alternative funding and promote the district's schools.

Sanne Specht is a free-lance writer living in Rogue River. Reach her at RogueRiverGal@aol.com.