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Board will weigh Ruch School open enrollment suggestion

Concerned about the fiscal sustainability of the rural Ruch School, members of the Ruch community asked the Medford School Board on Monday to consider enacting an open enrollment policy for the campus.

The board heard from the Applegate Partners Promoting Local Education group, which has held about 30 meetings over the past six months, according to organizer Matt Epstein.

Epstein said that since the school was nearly closed in 2004, the community of Ruch has been weary of worrying about a possible shutdown as the district continues to face a tight budget.

The APPLE group hopes to get support from the Medford School District, which it hopes will facilitate an open enrollment policy for only the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Ruch school.

"We need to increase enrollment," said Epstein.

More than 20 interested community members sat in on a board work session Monday to hear more about APPLE's plan, which includes promoting the school's unique educational opportunities.

Since it's near-closure eight years ago, the school has formed numerous partnerships with professionals and organizations in the community, offering fine art classes, environmental stewardship programs and a nationally recognized health and fitness program, according to Principal Julie Hill.

Despite the school's successes, the rural campus remains a budget problem for the district, as enrollment dipping below 200 students would mean the cost of operating the school would be higher than other schools in the district.

Superintendent Phil Long visited the school in the spring, and told community members that they would have to find solutions for making Ruch a more fiscally sustainable school to ensure the school would remain open in the future.

"We took his suggestion seriously," said Epstein.

The group said that opening enrollment for the school could draw in at least 30 more students, most likely those that were previously homeschooled, attended charter or private schools or are from outside the district.

Epstein said that with solid enrichment programs at Ruch, many of these students might be interested in returning to a public school or attending outside their home district, provided the school markets itself and the enrollment slots can be created by the district.

The plan drew support from several board members during Monday's work session.

"I like the whole idea of the Ruch revolution," said board member Sally Killen.

Killen worried that if the district were to establish open enrollment for Ruch that students from other schools in Medford might seek the transfer spots, which would mean no additional revenue for the district.

The open enrollment law, passed during the 2011 session of the Oregon Legislature, allows a district to open its doors and accept out-of-district students without permission from their home districts. Previously, both districts had to approve a transfer.

Students already attending school in a given district receive top priority when open enrollment is established.

Epstein said that if the district publicly supported the idea to help increase enrollment for Ruch, the school would be able to secure more funding through grants, and be able to market the school to students.

Though several board members indicated their support to help the APPLE group with their mission, the board elected not to vote for an endorsement of open enrollment until at least its next meeting, Oct. 15.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.