About 130 parents, teachers and community members gathered Thursday night at the Cowlitz PUD auditorium in Longview to marshal their resources and organize a fight against merging Longview high schools.
“It’s up to us to tell our board members now what we believe is and isn’t right,” said Susie Kirkpatrick of Save Longview Schools, a citizens’ group that is protesting the merger.
In February, a 48-member facilities committee recommended a plan to combine R.A. Long and Mark Morris high schools on the R.A. Long campus, close Monticello Middle School and bus students to two other middle schools, and close Northlake Elementary School and Broadway Learning Center. The plan does not include laying off teacher or other staff.
If approved, the district would sell Mark Morris and either Northlake or Broadway and use the proceeds to offset a predicted decline in enrollment — and state money. Possible buyers include Lower Columbia College and Phoenix developer Don Cardon, a former Longview city worker who is eying a substantial downtown redevelopment project.
Nearly every seat was filled during the 90-minute meeting Thursday night, and a few dozen people stood in the back. At one table, supporters sold T-shirts that read, “Lumberjacks and Monarchs — Working Together to Keep Us Apart.”
Seven speakers, including keynote and former Marysville, Wash., teacher Stuart Hunt, argued strongly against the merger plan, saying it would create overcrowded middle schools, a traffic nightmare at R.A. Long and the demise of the rich rivalry between the two high schools. Speakers also questioned whether the district needs to take such drastic belt-tightening steps while maintaining a reserve fund.
Hunt, a Longview native, compared what’s happening now in Longview to Marysville in the late 1990s, when administrators merged schools and adopted a concept called “smaller learning communities.” Hunt said the results were disastrous at a district still smarting from a 2003 teachers' strike, the longest in state history.
Students were shuffled into small groups in larger schools. Extra-curricular activities were cut. Teacher frustration grew.
“Marysville messes could very easily become Longview’s messes,” he said.
Sandy Catt, a school district spokeswoman, also attended the meeting and said she was impressed at the passion, but added that the district is dealing with declining enrollment and buildings that are 24 percent below student capacity.
“Looking at a 20-year future for the district, I think the whole study and survey was to take a long-term perspective on it. And I don’t believe there is any sort of immediate danger at this point. In all good prudence, it behooves the district to look at long-term stability in the buildings it has,” she said.
The Longview School Board is planning another study session on the merger plan
6 p.m. March 25 and two more in April, Catt said. The board has the final say on school closures, and no vote has been scheduled.
Opponents say they are planning to start doorbelling, hanging yard signs and posters and calling school board members to voice their opinion against closing schools.
“I will do anything to prevent Monticello from closing,” said Claudia Scattergood, a 22-year Monticello teacher.
Editor's note (March 18): A previous version of this story misstated Stuart Hunt's job and the timing of the 2003 Marysville teachers' strike. This version is correct.