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Three Rivers gets unanimous WL-WV support

School board votes to renew charter; negotiation of terms to start within 90 days


Representatives from Three Rivers Charter School cheered as the WL-WV School Board followed Superintendent Bill Rhoades’ recommendation and voted unanimously to renew the school’s charter during a special board session Nov. 13.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Three Rivers Charter School representatives were all smiles after the school board voted to renew the schools charter. From left, co-founder and board co-chairwoman Marilee Bales, co-chairman Russ Lewis, co-Founder and principal Katherine Holtgraves and board member Liz Lampson.As a charter school, Three Rivers requires an official sponsor and WL-WV has filled that role since the school opened in 2001. The school operates under a contract, known as a charter, with its sponsoring organization. Its current charter will expire June 2014, and the board’s decision to renew the charter is just the first step in creating a new one.

Next up is the task of negotiating terms for a new charter agreement between the school and district. TRCS board member Liz Lampson plans to meet with Rhoades privately to begin discussing terms.

The TRCS board is seeking two changes. First, they wish to increase school enrollment up to 50 percent, gradually adding students each year until the school’s current 100-student capacity has reached 150.

TRCS serves students in grades four through eight, and the building the school currently occupies, at 4975 Willamette Falls Drive in West Linn, is able to accommodate about 120 students. If that change occurs, the TRCS board has said it will accelerate its search for a new location.

Adding students is a matter of financial need, TRCS representatives said, and the demand for greater enrollment is evidenced by the surplus of applicants each year. TRCS accepts students on a lottery basis, and each year more students apply than can attend.

The school operates as a nonprofit, according to TRCS finance chairman Tim Murphy, with approximately a $1 million annual budget. About 50 percent of that comes from the State Schools Fund, channeled through WL-WV. Roughly 10 percent comes from fundraisers, and the rest comes from what the school calls its Kids First donation fund.

As a public school, TRCS does not charge tuition and is forbidden to require donations from students’ families. This year, each student is asked - but not required - to contribute $3,900.

Adding 50 more students to the school’s population would reduce that amount by 25 percent, Murphy said. The school is requesting another change to its charter that could, if granted, reduce the requested donation by an additional 25 percent.

Increased funding requested

Three Rivers’ second request, an increase in the amount of funding WL-WV passes from the state to the school, is likely to be the crux of coming negotiations.

The state provides funding to school districts using a complicated formula known as Average Daily Measurement, weighted, or ADMw. Since the charter school opened in 2001, WL-WV has provided TRCS with 80 percent of ADMw, the minimum amount required by law.

Now, the school is asking WL-WV to increase that percentage to 95 percent under a new charter.

“Whose money is ADMw?” Lampson asked the school board.

Referring to WL-WV’s policy of open enrollment that allows students to transfer out of the district, Lampson noted West Linn and Wilsonville residents who choose to transfer out of WL-WV take 100 percent of their ADMw funding with them to their new district.

“If a student chooses Three Rivers, why should they get less than if they choose Canby or Oregon City?” she said.

During periods of public comment, TRCS parents repeatedly made the point that the charter school had allowed them to keep their children in WL-WV’s public school system, rather than taking them outside the district to private schools. A majority of TRCS graduates attend high school within WL-WV, and keeping TRCS students in the district benefits WL-WV financially, Lampson said.

“We believe under Oregon law the 80 percent ADMw is a minimum. It’s a starting point,” Lampson said.

Money trail

TRCS board co-chairman Russ Lewis had met earlier with WL-WV Business Manager Doug Middlestetter, seeking to learn how the district was spending the 20 percent of students’ ADMw it retained. Middlestetter cited program administration and service as the main reason for the 80-20 split of ADMw.

“The reason the Legislature set this up ... is because the introduction of a charter school reduces the funding available to the existing local schools, with no corresponding relief to the sponsoring school as a result of the departure of the students attending the charter school,” Middlestetter wrote in a document he shared with the Tidings. “The sponsoring school is responsible for the same level of program administration and service, possibly even more, with fewer dollars.”

TRCS has approximately 20 students per grade, meaning that each of the district’s nine primary schools could lose one or two students per grade to the charter school.

“It is highly unlikely that a drop in a classroom of just one or two kids could ever result in a reduction of any teachers, classrooms, custodial services, principals, bus routes, etc.,” Middlestetter wrote. “The responsibility of operating a school district still rests in full with the sponsoring district.”

“We don’t think he made a good case,” Lewis said at the Nov. 13 hearing. “ADMw should not be looked at as the district’s money. After 13 years, Three Rivers Charter School has earned a bigger share of those taxpayer dollars.”

If the new charter does not include the changes the school seeks, Lewis said the school has considered changing its operating model to include additional students who would pay tuition as at a private school.

“I can’t overestimate how much we do not want that to happen,” Lewis said. Tuition-paying students who might enroll in a public/private charter school would bring no state funding to either TRCS or the school district.

Following the meeting, Lampson expressed gratitude to the board for the hearing.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the school board on crafting a new charter agreement which mutually benefits our school and this district,” she said.

No dates were announced for opening negotiations. By law, good-faith negotiation of its terms must begin within 90 days of the renewal decision.

Kate Hoots can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 112. Follow her on Twitter, @CommuniKater.



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