Cascade Locks seeks K-12 return

January 28, 2012

Bulk up Cascade Locks School or turn the building over to Corbett.

That is the essence of the request made to the Hood River County School Board Wednesday by representatives of the Cascade Locks Community School Committee.

Connie Kennedy Buttaccio and George Fischer of the Cascade Locks committee gave an impassioned presentation to the board, asking it to take one of two steps that Kennedy said are "within your power."

The first is to move the attendance boundary lines to assign more K-12 students to Cascade Locks. The other is to allow a merger with neighboring Corbett School District, which is at full enrollment and needs room to expand.

Buttaccio and Fischer asked the board to make a decision at its next school board meeting. Supt. Charlie Beck said the district should decide by next week how to respond, and it may or may not be in a board meeting. The choices are to put it on the agenda at an upcoming meeting or to write a letter to the Cascade Locks Committee.

As to the request for a change in the Cascade Locks School's status, Beck said, "I'm certainly in favor of them staying" in HRCSD.

"My own position is that the best place for Cascade Locks schools is with Hood River County School District and we will continue to provide a vigorous K-5 education there.

"The comprehensive education they receive at Hood River Middle School and Hood River Valley High School is the best they could get," Beck said.

Fischer and Buttaccio referred to the gradual reduction of Cascade Locks from K-12 to K-5, and suggested the school would ultimately be closed.

Beck was asked, "Does the district plan to keep Cascade Locks School open as part of the Hood River County School District?"

Beck responded, "Correct."

As a K-5 school Cascade Locks currently serves about 60 students, down from 110 or so when it was a K-12 school in 2008-09.

Kennedy read a lengthy letter to the board (see page A4) and Fischer made a short statement, telling the board that "an emotional hole" was created when the district closed the high school in 2009 and then shifted seventh and eighth graders to HRMS in 2010. (The district also plans to move Cascade Locks sixth graders starting in fall 2012.)

Buttaccio cited 300 letters of support for re-establishing a K-12 school in Cascade Locks, and said that of the 197 adults answering a survey in Cascade Locks, 194 supported the idea. Further, a petition with 258 signatures was submitted to the school district; 95 percent of businesses in Cascade Locks support the idea, and both City Council and the Cascade Locks Port Commission are in support.

She said if the school district does not choose either the internal boundary change or merger option, the committee will pursue a third path: a petition for merger with Corbett. The committee would need to gather 500 signatures from registered voters in Hood River County and about 120 from voters in the Corbett District. If no one files a counter petition, the issue would go to the vote of the people.

"The committee is determined to move forward and will proceed with the petition process," Buttaccio said. "However, we want to reach out to you and ask that you work with us on this process and jointly write a resolution that will positively support the students of this district.

"It will be up to the people's right to place their vote," said Fischer, who has led a three-year effort to create a charter school in Cascade Locks. The charter process, which has been abandoned, has involved repeated meetings and requests to the school district.

"We have come to you repeatedly to ask for help and we're coming to you again to ask for help," Fischer said.

He said the reduction in enrollment at Cascade Locks "has created a sinkhole in the community that just keeps getting bigger."

Mayor Lance Masters told the board Wednesday, "My hope is that the board will consider the will of the community of Cascade Locks and our own self-determination.

"Over the past 5-19 years there has certainly been a perception we do not have that voice and we don't have self-determination," said Masters, who teaches at The Dalles-Wahtonka High School.

"I'll certainly do whatever I can to help our community make an informed decision on this and I hope we will be allowed to make the decision ourselves," Masters said.

He said the community needs to hear from both HRCSD and from Corbett District before making a decision, and he invited Beck to attend the next City Council meeting, Feb. 13.

Buttaccio said, "Our first request is that the board consider that option: Move the attendance boundary lines to reassign 10 percent of the students in those three schools to Cascade Locks."

She told the board, "If students from Cascade Locks can be bused to Hood River, certainly students from Hood River can be bused to Cascade Locks."

She cited October enrollment figures showing 488 students at Westside, 546 students at Hood River Middle School and more than 1,200 students at Hood River Valley High School.

"Certainly 10 percent of the students in each of the schools could be redirected to Cascade Locks to create a school of over 250 students. There is plenty of room at Cascade Locks to do that and that would solve the declining enrollment issue that led to the closing of the K-12 school."

As a second option, said Buttaccio, "If the board is not willing to make that change even though it would re-establish a thriving K-12 school in Cascade Locks, then the committee is asking that you support a different boundary change.

"This is our alternate request: Please consider and support a boundary change that would allow the community of Cascade Locks to withdraw from the Hood River County School District and be joined to the Corbett School District."

Beck said that he will meet with board chair Liz Whitmore and legal counsel next week to decide how to respond to the Cascade Locks Committee's request.

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