EDITOR: Recently, innovative ideas have begun to circulate
amongst the staff and community in response to the stresses applied
to our school district – stresses caused by declining enrollment
and the economic downturn.

Recently, innovative ideas have begun to circulate amongst the staff and community in response to the stresses applied to our school district – stresses caused by declining enrollment and the economic downturn. Many of these ideas receive little welcome amongst district leadership as they are currently overwhelmed with budget reductions and building new schools. However, it is altogether fitting to entertain such ideas as part of the obligation that district management has to its current students and employees.

The school district has targeted a goal of $3.2 million in cuts to balance the operating budget. Although the immediately offered reason necessitating these cuts is the poor economy, there is far more to blame for the loss in service and jobs that the district will endure. Even without state imposed cuts, the school district will still need to slash approximately half of the targeted amount due to declining enrollment – enrollment that is projected to continue to decline through 2008 (despite the fact that the city’s population continues to slowly grow).

The fact that our school district continues to lose students, and hence its operating funding base, speaks volumes about the competitive stature of our district. The fact that this problem is never acknowledged continues to undermine both community and employee confidence. The community often manifests this dissatisfaction by sending their children to other schools. Employees manifest this dissatisfaction through poor morale and occasionally seeking other employment.

District leadership handles this predicament by ignoring it when they can, and by doling out selective information when they can not. Recently two board members attended a department chair meeting at Live Oak where they were treated to a large helping of all the reasons why Live Oak renovations cannot be completed and why freshman can not attend the high school before Sobrato is built.

Specifically, it was recorded in the minutes that Live Oak renovations totaling $21 million have already surpassed the $17 million earmarked for the project. Conspicuously missing from this mathematical analysis was $9.2 million in state modernization funds recently approved for Live Oak. That makes $26.2 million total, or over $5 million available to continue Live Oak now.

Likewise, it was stated that renovations continuing at Live Oak would decrease its capacity and would not be feasible until Sobrato is done. Although there is some truth to this, several projects at Live Oak do not have an impact on capacity – most notable are the locker room renovations, covered walkways, the 550 and 700 buildings. These projects could proceed now.

In regards to the ninth grade moving to the high school, several department chairs gave “testimony” as to why it is not possible. Of course, prior to this, all were instructed to base their conclusion only on an all or nothing move of the ninth grade.

Specifically, the science department has been identified as an obstacle as labs would be difficult due to overcrowding. Surprisingly, these conclusions were reached before enrollment numbers for next fall were available. Inspection of those numbers now show a different picture. The science dept. has 11 classrooms that are equipped as labs. These rooms can house 55 sections with no room sharing, or up to 66 with one or two “traveling” science teachers.

This coming fall, 10-12 grade enrollment for science requires only 43 sections, leaving room for 396 additional students with no room sharing, or up to 751 if all science rooms were used all six periods. This does not count additional capacity as the school plans to run a zero period option next year – at maximum, science could theoretically house 77 sections, or 1,100 additional students in Live Oak’s current science facilities.

Of course, the entire ninth grade only numbers 680. The sophomore class has 100 students that qualify for transfer to Central (which has space for another 125). The incoming freshman class will also have a comparable number of students that should be retained due to 3 or more “F’s.”

The fact is that the science department can house the freshman class – even though the board has been left with the opposite message.

Thousands of students will continue to pass through our schools before Sobrato can open. Teachers will continue to be laid off as a result of declining enrollment – in part due to the district-identified cause of a 10-12-grade configuration. Both of these groups deserve present attention.

It is wrong to worsen the current reality for the preference of pursuing long-term goals; especially when even after five years in the making, there continues to be no clear completion timeline for Sobrato. Postponing addressing ninth grade needs as leverage for completing a second comprehensive high school is unethical. Build Sobrato, but mitigate the impact on our current students and employees. Interim ninth grade and operational start-up plans for Sobrato are crucial to the reputation and economic status of the school district.

So keep questioning, keep looking, and best of luck.

Glen Webb,

Live Oak High School

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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