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The Oregon City Schools’ proposed plan to reconfigure grades five through eight would add $551,554 to the district’s operating budget, but the expense could be managed, Superintendent Michael Zalar told the board of education last week.
The extra costs would result from changes in student transportation, which carried a cost of $82,000, and increased staffing, which would account for the rest.
But the district’s share of casino revenue from the state, together with belt-tightening and staffing adjustments, would more than offset the new costs, according to the superintendent’s projections.
The casino money would come to $204,225, and the district could achieve operational savings of $107,000 from from belt-tightening, and trim costs by $261,780 through staffing adjustments, he said at a special board meeting attended by about 50 at Clay High School.
Mr. Zalar said his plan was affordable and “the purpose of doing this is not to save the district money.”
Under Mr. Zalar’s plan, the middle schools Eisenhower and Fassett would become an intermediate school and junior high, respectively. Fifth and sixth graders would attend Eisenhower, and seventh and eighth graders Fassett.
Currently, three elementary schools house kindergarten through fifth grades, and the two middle schools have the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.
Mr. Zalar's plan is intended to address academic underperformance in grades five through eight, where math and science scores have been lagging in state assessment tests. He said that most Ohio districts earning the highest rating, excellent with distinction, have separate fifth and sixth-grade buildings, which is considered more developmentally age appropriate than placing them with older students.
Oregon’s rating is effective, the approximate equivalent of a B grade.
Mr. Zalar’s presentation came after the district held six public meetings to outline the changes the board was considering. The fine points, such as the costs and building assignments, were unavailable until last week.
“This is an important conversation, and the board is interested in receiving your feedback,” Mr. Zalar told the audience.
He said student start and finish times would remain the same if the changes were adopted, as would the policy of a maximum one-hour bus time. Intermediate and junior high students would receive an additional 20 minutes of math instruction per day.
The elementary schools would benefit as well, with 20 minutes of additional music and physical education time each week made possible by removing the fifth graders. With the reconfiguration, fifth grades would again have art instruction, which was cut.
Staff additions would consist of two teachers and three part-time monitors in the intermediate school and an assistant principal and two teachers at the junior high. These would account for $315,706 of the reconfiguration’s higher operating costs.
Mr. Zalar said Eisenhower and Fassett could comfortably accommodate the higher enrollments the change would entail. Eisenhower’s student body would increase to 552 from 438, and Fassett would house 604 students, compared with 474 today.
Hal Gregory, the district’s director of educational services, said the reconfiguration would involve no changes to special education.
Dean Sandwisch, the district’s director of business affairs, said improving the Eisenhower and Fassett buildings for the change could cost $50,000, money Mr. Zalar said would come from the capital improvements budget. Board member P.J. Kapfhammer said this expense had been planned for.