On a 25-11 vote, the Longview Facilities Committee agreed Thursday night to recommend that the city’s two high schools be merged.
The committee will present its recommendation to the school board Monday night, and then there must be 90 days of public hearings before the board decides whether to move forward.
“Your job is finished, but the beginning is starting now,” Superintendent Suzanne Cusick said Thursday night as she thanked the citizens committee for its more than five months of work.
“We don’t know what the answers are going to be in our town, because this is a community decision,” Cusick said, urging citizens to stay involved and come to board meetings.
The process is far from over. Even if the school board likes the plan, some way must be found to pay the millions of dollars needed to reconfigure the Monticello/R.A. Long School campus. Committee member Bob Guide said the financing options are asking voters to approve a bond or selling Mark Morris High School. One committee member blurted out that interested buyers already are looking at the property.
More than 100 members of the public attended the sixth and final meeting of the citizens planning group. The group first met in September to come up with a long-range plan to deal with declining enrollment, underutilized school space and shrinking revenues.
The plan would combine high schools are the R.A. Long/Monticello campus, close Northlake and Broadway elementaries and return the district to a two middle school system just a decade after it added a third middle school.
Of the 15 people who addressed the committee most opposed the merger plan.
Head Start Director Sandy Junker spoke against closing Broadway, saying it would displace 170 Head Start children, infant to age 5, and their support services. Her program has spent $200,000 on putting in a playground and other improvements, she said.
Ian Thompson addressed the potential loss of Northlake Elementary, which piloted the school gardens and found a way to keep Cispus outdoor school when other area schools lost it.
If the children and teachers are dispersed elsewhere, “the spirit is dispersed,” he said.
Several people spoke in support of keeping Monticello Middle School instead of busing students out of their neighborhood.
“It’s important to have smaller schools at a time crucial to them,” said former Longview mayor Kurt Anagnostou. “The committee should not be afraid to look at more expensive alternatives, if it means we get to keep three middle schools.”
Speaking in support of consolidation, Mark Morris High School senior Ellie Campton said, “you would be increasing education at the high school level.” Campton, who had been an exchange student to Sweden, said Longview doesn’t offer enough classes “if you’re serious about academics.”
Superintendent Cusick has said combining schools would enable the district to reshuffle faculty to offer more advanced classes.
People who didn’t wish to speak at the meeting were encouraged to submit written comments, all of which will be turned over the board to consider during the next phase of the process.
If the board accepts the recommendation, it will be at least a year before an elementary school is closed and two or three years before the middle and high school closures, Cusick said.
Only 37 of the original 48 members attended the meeting. Some who couldn’t attend included letters in the committee packet.