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District May Juggle Schools

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District may realign the grade levels of its elementary and middle schools in 2008.

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District may realign the grade levels of its elementary and middle schools in 2008.

Ash Creek Intermediate School -- which serves fifth and sixth grades -- and all of the elementary schools in Monmouth and Independence would switch to K-5. Talmadge Middle School would handle grades 6 through 8.

Since December, Central district officials have been exploring ways to use a portion of last year's voter-approved $13.5 million bond -- $5 million was earmarked specifically for enrollment issues -- to alleviate the district's capacity problems.

The restructuring was determined the most ideal, said Superintendent Joseph Hunter, who hosted open forums for, and distributed a newsletter to, area families last week to inform them of the idea and field their concerns.

Hunter said the changes would take effect in the fall of 2008 and should immediately reduce the student crush by spreading out the numbers among more schools. It would also buy the school board at least four years to consider and plan for building a fifth elementary school.

Central district enrollment is growing annually at a rate of about 5 percent. The number of new kindergartners is projected to grow by 7 percent each year until 2015, Hunter said.

"By 2012, we are going to need a new school," Hunter said. "If we do nothing, we will have a crisis by 2015 and be short by about 50 classrooms."

The school board will ultimately make the final call on the restructuring scenario. There is no timeline, but a decision could be made in the next couple of months, Hunter said.

All of the schools except Talmadge are operating at or above enrollment capacity, Hunter said. Monmouth Elementary School -- which currently exceeds 500 students -- and Ash Creek have experienced rapid growth, spurred by new subdivisions on 16th Street and the Edwards Addition in south Monmouth.

Per the restructuring scenario, all of the elementary schools would undergo some boundary changes, while Ash Creek would serve all households west of Gun Club Road and north of Monmouth Street in Independence, and north of Main Street in Monmouth to the district line.

The switch only alters the elementary school boundaries, not the overall district, Hunter said.

Sixth graders would be relocated to a newly constructed classroom wing at Talmadge. They would be separated from seventh and eighth graders for most of the day, Hunter said.

"This would immediately reduce our needs and give us the years we need to plan for and build another school," Hunter said.

There isn't time to implement the plan by the 2007-08 school year, when district enrollment is expected to exceed 3,000 students, Hunter said.

To meet that immediate demand, officials must purchase two or more portable classrooms for each of the elementary schools and the high school for next fall, he said. The school board has approved $630,000 of the bond for the modular units.

"The rest we will hold in reserve for the outcome of this discussion," Hunter said. "We will use the money to expand Talamdge and realign the elementary schools."

Reconfiguring the grade levels would keep elementary enrollments at each school around 400 students, Hunter said. While the board felt it was the best of the several options it reviewed, many parents expressed concern or disdain for the proposal during open forums at each of the schools last week.

"I think it would be better if they (the grade levels) were left the way they are," said Adela Urena of Monmouth during a meeting at Independence Elementary School. She has children at MES.

"That's too big an age difference between the kindergartners and fifth graders."

Christy Jeffries of Independence asked if the district could simply add portable classrooms during the next several years and instead, use the available funds to address problems at the high school.

"I have a daughter who has been taught in portables for years, and I haven't seen any lack of education because of that," she said.

The modules would provide more space, but the core facilities, such as cafeterias, gyms, lavetories and parking areas wouldn't be able to handle added students, Hunter said.

Another parent asked if administrators would come back to residents in the next four years to address the same set of issues, even if the schools were realigned and a new facility built.

Probably, Hunter said.

He said Monmouth and Independence, "for a variety of reasons are going to do nothing but grow. I wish I could say we can just build a new school and not have to worry about things for the next 20 years."

The next Central School Board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 2, at Ash Creek Intermediate School. For more information: 503-838-0030.

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