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North Clackamas School District to close Concord Elementary

Concord Elementary School in Oak Grove will close at the end of the school year following the North Clackamas School Board’s 6-1 vote Thursday, saving $450,000 in estimated annual administrative and custodial costs.

by: PHOTO BY: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Concord Elementary School parents pack the Sabin-Schellenberg Skills Center auditorium to protest the closure of their school beginning next year.Trisha Claxton, who lives halfway between Concord and Riverside elementary schools, voted no. She’d rather see the district enact measures such as discontinuing the purchase of new textbooks until voters pass a bond to improve the safety of schools during earthquakes.

According to Macadam Forbes, Concord’s building and prime acreage could be resold at $4.9 million, the most of the five elementary schools under consideration for closure. But several elected school officials vowed keep the historic building intact for public use.

“It’s a sad statement on the value that the public places on public education that our funding situation has led us to this,” said longtime Board Member Vivian Scott.

Tearful parents, teachers and students singing versions of their school songs gave moving speeches to save their school at the Dec. 12 meeting, even though their school building was the oldest and operating only at 63 percent of capacity. Some parents encouraged the School Board members to postpone their decision until after the arrival of Milwaukie light rail in 2015, which they expected would attract families with school-age children to the area.

That suggestion resonated with elected official Rein Vaga, who lamented that the McLoughlin community has been trying to improve itself and wondered how history would judge the School Board’s decision. His motion to delay the closure until the 2016-17 school year was seconded by Claxton but failed 5-2.

“I am betting 285 lives that nothing happens with this amendment,” Vaga said.

Daryl Dixon spoke for the majority of the board, however, in recalling the recent earthquake in China that killed thousands, including many children.

“That’s just not something I’m willing to take a risk on for our kids,” Dixon said. “I hope this is the toughest decision that the School Board ever has. I couldn’t imagine any harder or more difficult.”

Scott said she couldn’t live with the idea that her decision could have contributed to the death of a child, and though the closure was a hard pill to take, she was confident in the enrollment projections and in the district’s ability to close its budget gap.

About 100 taxpayers in the Rex Putnam feeder area signed a petition to find alternative budget-saving measures that wouldn’t require disrupting children. But other parents feared that crime and loitering would increase around Concord’s campus next to a newly built McLoughlin Boulevard Walmart, where a traffic situation has given them grave concerns about student getting safely to school.

Superintendent Matt Utterback recommended the “tough financial decision” with the hope of lowering class sizes by hiring more teachers and restoring NCSD student days in the near future. He said the budgetary axe fell on Concord mainly because of its $3.8 million in maintenance and seismic-upgrade costs estimated as necessary through 2021, 56 percent higher than the next highest school in the Rex Putnam High School feeder system.

Moving Concord’s 285 students to safer schools will bump enrollment numbers of all area schools closer to the district’s target of 500 students. Based on Portland State University enrollment projections that considered population increases stemming from light-rail construction, the remaining four elementary schools in the Rex Putnam feeder area have classroom space until at least 2022.

Concord parents were also out in force to defend their school at the board’s previous school-closure hearings, Nov. 14 and Dec. 4. They spoke of Concord’s longstanding educational traditions and its principal who has been working with parents to reinforce safety procedures.

Now an appointed NCSD Boundary Committee will redraw elementary school attendance boundaries for the Putnam feeder system to present to the School Board for discussion in February and possible action in March.

Earlier this year, district staff recommended that the School Board consolidate the five elementary schools in the Rex Putnam High School feeder system by closing Riverside Elementary, a bilingual school that produces graduates fluent in both Spanish and English. After an outpouring of support for Riverside, Utterback reversed course in March, instead forming a District Boundary Committee to recommend a school for closure in the Putnam system.

Before Utterback’s reversal, Riverside parents had lobbied School Board members to consider closing Concord to maximize calculated cost effectiveness. The district would like its elementary schools to hold 500 students, but Concord can only hold 448. Riverside can hold 560 students. Concord’s building was constructed in 1936, whereas Riverside’s construction dates to 1955. Riverside’s building and property would only be worth $3.9 million.