After three bond vote failures in recent years, it was time to start getting creative. More importantly, it was time for a change.
But, as East Valley School District Superintendent John Glenewinkel told a crowd of about 50 on Tuesday evening, “Everyone is all for change – provided they don’t have to do anything differently.”
Things may soon be very different in East Valley indeed.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the EVSD board of directors, Glenewinkel outlined a plan for the district to purchase $6.2 million – through nonvoted bond debt – to buy portable classrooms for the Trent, Trentwood, Otis Orchards and East Farms schools.
While the money would essentially be a loan from a local bank, Glenewinkel said the money could be paid back through savings in closing down Mountainview Middle School this year and the switchover of East Valley Middle School to other uses to free up nearly $736,000 per year.
If the board approves the plan next month, the district will buy a four-classroom-space portable for each school along with another portable building to be used as multipurpose room that could also be used for up to three more classrooms in the future.
The buildings, Glenewinkel said, have a lifespan of up to 40 years, are flexible in design, are easy to construct and are efficient. They will include restrooms, heating and air-conditioning, wireless networking capabilities, white boards and all the other needed amenities of a typical class space.
Best of all, district taxpayers – who did support the recent four-year maintenance-and-operations levy but failed to garner the 60-percent needed for a $33.75 million capital facilities bond – will see no property tax increases. Instead, the money will come from the general fund and state levy-equalization funding.
“We’re not broke,” Glenewinkel said, adding that the levy approval and maintaining enrollment is key to maintaining the district’s bottom line. “What we don’t have is a capital fund.”
The plan goes hand-in-hand with a transition to a district-wide K-8 switchover that is expected to go into effect by the start of the 2013-14 school year. At that time, EVMS would be converted to administrative office and a learning center.
While enrollment has dropped from its highest levels in 1999, Glenewinkel says it remains “stable” and should support the new K-8 structure.
Those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting had questions but seemed largely supportive.
“I wish the voters had supported us on a bond,” said Ruth Gifford, who lives near the East Valley High School. “We need to stay the course.”
More critical is Art Tupper, a longtime East Valley resident and former teacher in District 81, who has been known to verbally spar with Glenewinkel and board members at meetings. Tuesday was no exception.
“What makes you so sure you’re doing the right thing?” Tupper asked. “What makes you think you have all the answers?”
Glenewinkel says he doesn’t – but evidence is showing that the changes implemented this year, starting with the closure of Mountainview, are starting to work. Sixth-grade discipline issues are down, with only three suspensions so far across the district this school year. This time last year, Glenewinkel said there were 45 suspensions.
Attendance is also up, but is starting to level off, he said. And while teachers are handing out more failing grades, most students’ scores are improving.
With the portables in place next year, seventh-graders would receive instruction in the new buildings in the morning and then be bused to East Valley Middle School for lunch and afternoon classes such as physical education, music and possibly science.
The superintendent said the students have been adapting to the change well. Adults, he admitted, less so but added that teachers are starting to come around.
“I’m unable to find a study showing that K-8 has a negative impact on students,” Glenewinkel said.