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Board votes, 3-1, to close elementary school in Wimer and consolidate classes

ROGUE RIVER — This spring will be Evans Valley Elementary School's last.

For a long couple of minutes, it looked as if the vote to reorganize schools wouldn't find a friend at a nearly packed meeting on Tuesday night.

School Board member Richard Pardy finally moved to approve the reorganization plan, which will close Evans Valley in Wimer after this school year and consolidate all classes in kindergarten through third grade at Rogue River Elementary. Grades four to six will be at the middle school and grades seven to 12 at the high school.

Board Chairman Howard Wand and Vice Chairman Vince Ceriello voted with Pardy.

The vote was 3-1, with board member Trayce Jensen opposed after making a last attempt to rescue Evans Valley. "Oh, my God!" she said.

A fifth board member, Niki Coulter, might have voted with Jensen, but stood and announced she had been advised it would be a conflict of interest.

As a custodian at the high school, Coulter's husband could be laid off as part of budget cuts. "I'm deeply sorry that I'm now placed in a situation where I've (not) been able to fulfill my responsibilities to the community, and I'm very sorry that I've failed you!" Coulter said, bolting from the table.

"We love you, Niki!" someone said from the crowd.

A few rushed up after the vote to slap down written requests to transfer their children out of the district. Others expressed support.

"I just wish there were other options," Wand said after the meeting. "When it comes to closing a school, it's a very emotional and difficult thing, but sometimes these hard decisions come down to the final wire, where they have to be made."

"This problem pre-dated this board by 10 years and it will go on for years after we're gone," Ceriello said. "We were just the first board that had the guts to do something about it."

"I don't think the best ideas were given the time," Jensen maintained. In the meeting, she had pressed for more consideration of an alternate scenario in which all students in grades six through eight would attend Evans Valley.

"I think that, if you look at the progression of ideas and what was discussed when, things were put off too much," Jensen said. "I think we suffered from some poor leadership at the board level."

Tuesday's meeting also included some unusually public debate among principals over moving seventh- and eighth-graders from the middle school to the high school.

Those students will have access to core high school and elective classes at the high school, explained Tom McCormick, principal of Rogue River Elementary and the middle school.

"I think the move would help the students grow up, educationally, quicker," he said. And, as the former principal of a high school in Glendale that includes grades seven and eight, McCormick said the students can be separated from upper classes with reasonable success, with proper scheduling.

"I have heard a lot of discussion and a great deal of fear about the idea of high school students mingling with younger students. I have never seen a situation where a junior or a senior in high school was interested in a seventh- or eighth-grader," he said.

"In my opinion, I don't see a reasonable way to keep seventh- and eighth-graders apart from high school students," maintained Jane McAlvage, principal of Evans Valley. "My beautiful blonde (eighth-grader) was moved to a 7-12, and she was preyed upon."

McAlvage argued that the projected savings by shutting down Evans Valley and reorganizing the other schools will not bear out.

"There will be no electives, in my opinion, for students at the middle and high school level, because of these budget cuts."

She also predicted enrollment will continue to fall as more disaffected parents decide to homeschool their children.

Evans Valley may have another life. A community group is still aiming to reopen it as an environmentally focused charter school in 2012.

Howard Huntington is a reporter at the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Reach him at 541-474-3726 or hhuntington@thedailycourier.com.