Longview School District parents, teachers and community members are skeptical about how combining the city’s two high schools will cut costs and improve students’ education.
About 45 people attended a 21/2-hour community meeting Tuesday night at Mount Solo Middle School to ask questions and learn more about options under study by a 48-member independent committee on facilities. Most of the problems relate to declining enrollment.
One of the committee’s recommendations is to merge the district’s high schools — R.A. Long and Mark Morris. Many in the crowd questioned whether that was the right decision for the community’s identity and for students’ education.
“We’re a smaller, hometown community where a lot of people have moved back to raise their kids,” said Miranda Boudreau. “To combine (the high schools) would take away allegiances, and you’re going to push people away. We’ve all grown up like this.”
District officials charged an independent committee in September with analyzing how to improve education while cutting costs. The committee members were in favor of a $20 million plan that would create a single high school campus using both the existing R.A. Long building and the adjacent Monticello Middle School. The Mark Morris building would become a regional vocational skills center and boundaries for some of the district’s middle and elementary schools would be redrawn. The price tag of the project could total $40 million when capital expenses are included.
“There are 2,100 empty chairs in your district,” said Scott Rose, facilitator for the committee, during Tuesday’s forum. “Historically, the district has been losing students for the last 12 years. Young families aren’t moving here.”
Voters would likely need to approve a bond to make the merged high school plan a reality, he added.
Some in the audience questioned whether this was a solution to a problem that would eventually resolve itself. Brenda Winters noted that growth was moving north from Vancouver and could reach Longview in coming years.
“It’s unrealistic long-term to think the best we can do to stabilize enrollment,” Winters said. “To make changes that are permanent that can’t be undone... I don’t think that’s prudent.”
C.J. Nickerson felt the process was being done backwards, thinking about what to do with buildings before determining how those changes would affect student learning.
“I think we’ve got the cart before the horse,” Nickerson said. “What we’re being asked to do is put money in brick, mortar and glass before they tell us what they’re going to do with education.”
Several teachers and district officials were in attendance and spoke. Some fell in line with the crowd’s skepticism while others said combining schools would be a positive long-term change that would give students more opportunities than they currently enjoy.
“Did we think we’d be here? No,” said district Superintendent Suzanne Cusick, “but that’s the reality. The truth is we have too many schools and too few kids. And as we look to 2018, there is no hope.”
Cusick said she was in favor of closing one of the high schools, saying it would help the district offer a competitive education, consolidate scarce resources, lower the costs of maintaining two facilities and better utilize staff.
Rose emphasized that the decision-making process was closer to the beginning than the end. The committee will conduct its final meeting Jan. 10 to reanalyze its options and weigh public input.
“The school board will decide what to do in the next step,” Rose said. “This doesn’t mean (school consolidation) us the direction (committee members) are going in. Does it mean it’s a key part of their recommendation? Probably.”