R.A. Long High School

R.A. Long High School.

An idea to merge Longview’s high schools took another step forward last week.

A 10-member subcommittee of a school district citizens group drafted a recommendation Thursday that, if adopted, would make these changes by the fall of 2016:

• Create a single high school on the R.A. Long-Monticello campus

• Retain middle schools at Cascade and Mount Solo

• Close Broadway Preschool and Northlake Elementary; one would be sold, the other repurposed.

Before these recommendations go to the Longview School Board for approval, they must be OK’d by the full 48-member Longview Facilities Planning Committee. The committee has been studying ways to deal with a plunge in student enrollment that is not expected to be reversed in the foreseeable future. School board action is unlikely before August (see timeline).

Although the merger idea has been talked about for weeks, Thursday’s action is the first time the idea has been formally put recommended by any group.

The draft does not put a price tag on the plan, but recommends “the development of a financial plan to align these recommendations with the financial capabilities of the district.”

Committee members say the district simply must find savings to make up for the loss of millions in revenue related to the enrollment decline.

“What we came up with, hopefully, will be the end of the first step in this long-range plan,” subcommittee member Bob Guide said Friday. “We have arrived at a concept that now needs to be fleshed out, and the economics of that concept appear to be very sound.”

The subcommittee will present its draft plan to the main committee in a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Mark Morris High School multipurpose room. The committee will discuss the draft, make revisions and vote. If approved, the committee will present its recommendation to the school board at its Feb. 11 meeting.

There is no guarantee that the full committee will accept the draft as written, Guide said.

“I have every hope that the rest of the Longview Facilities Planning Committee will accept our product, but there’s always a possibility that they will reject it or tear it apart or revise it considerably,” he said.

The draft makes these points in support of the merger idea:

• Longview’s school buildings are under-utilized by 2,025 student spaces.

• It costs $61,000 to $390,000 a year to operate each district school, not counting employee costs, with Mark Morris being the most expensive.

• A backlog of major maintenance and replacement costs for all buildings range from $525,000 at Olympic Elementary to $5.5 million at Mark Morris.

• Due to declining enrollment, the district is operating on $4.8 million less in state funding in 2012 than it did in 1999. It’s imperative the district look for savings.

The subcommittee’s draft makes no suggestions about what do with Mark Morris once a merger is completed. It recommends creation of a task force to determine its best use. Previous committee meetings have included suggestions that MM be used for a vocational-technical skills center and administrative offices, or be sold.

“It would appear that the value of Mark Morris (assessed at $18 million) could pay for the cost of all of the consolidation,” Guide said Friday. “The size of any potential bond (to finance a merger) will depend greatly on what decision is made regarding the disposition of Mark Morris.”

Potential timeline

(based on what has typically happened in other districts)

Feb. 7: 6:30 p.m. Facilities Planning Committee meeting, Mark Morris large-group instructional area; group will review, revise, adopt recommendation for presentation to school board. Open to public.

Feb. 11: 7:30 p.m. Longview School Board meeting, district board room. Committee is expected to present its recommendation, depending on the outcome of the Feb. 7 meeting. The board will take no action at the first reading.

Next 13 weeks to three months: Board obtains an administrative impact report, does community polling, gathers additional data.

Possibly sometime in May: Second read of recommendation at school board meeting.

Next 90 days: If the recommendation includes building closures, board policy includes a 90-day window for public comment.

Possibly mid-August: Final presentation at school board meeting; board votes

During next three years after approval: Community meetings, evaluations of transportation and boundary alignments, logistics committee generates transition plan, guided by community polling. Typically it takes a year to close and merge an elementary school, but up to three years to do a middle or high school.

Source: Scott Rose, school district consultant

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