The local school district invites Powell Butte Community Charter School back into the district

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Last spring, Powell Butte Community Charter School fifth- and seventh-graders took a field trip to the Crooked River Wetlands Complex as part of their placed-based education curriculum. High school students helped teach compass use.

What is the future of Powell Butte Community Charter School?

School administrators and board members broached the topic Thursday evening.

"I would like to extend an offer to start conversations with Powell Butte Community Charter about joining back in with us," said Crook County School District Board Chair Doug Smith, addressing the charter school board of directors.

The rural place-based community public charter school has 200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Upon learning that the CCSD intended to close the 80-year-old Powell Butte Elementary School at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, the Powell Butte community came together and established a nonprofit public charter school. The charter school is in the second year of a five-year contract with the CCSD.

Today, the CCSD is in better financial shape, while the charter school faces some challenges.

"I think we're all very concerned about the building and the road situation out front and the widening of the road and those plans in the future," said PBCCS Board Chair Patty McLean.

"I felt that it's very important that we start that discussion," Smith told his fellow CCSD board members in a Nov. 13 meeting. "That facility is probably the most challenged we have left remaining in our district, and if we're looking at doing something out there potentially in a five- to 10-year window with a bond, it would make more sense for it to be a district-operated school than it would be for us to go out and try to build educational classrooms and collect a dollar a year rent."

Smith told the six board members and administrator Thursday night that the school district has the resources to help the traffic problems of the school that fronts the busy Highway 126. He also noted that the CCSD has one of the lowest PERS rates in the state. He believes students should be educated in the community in which they live.

Smith went on to list how the charter school would benefit from joining the district, such as higher employee salaries, benefits and retention rates.

CCSD board member Scott Cooper, who also attended the PBCCS board meeting, congratulated them for operating a school that performs well, is well governed and is financially sound.

"That's leadership, but any good leader is not only looking at how things are today but looking at how things are likely to be and is poised and flexed and ready to move, depending on circumstances," Cooper said.

He warned them of the upcoming vote in January on the health care tax, noting that if it goes down, it could affect the state budget and education funding. Cooper also pointed out that the PERS rates in the next biennium could be even worse than the current rates. He also reminded them that the CCSD is hiring a new superintendent and encouraged them to be involved in the selection process.

Parents and board members in attendance voiced concerns for having to change the way PBCCS offers place-based education with its many field studies as well as the Storyline style of teaching.

Place-based education focuses learning within the local community, providing learners with a path for becoming active citizens and stewards of the environment and place where they live. The resources of the community are brought into the learning process.

"I think that will be huge with the community because they've worked so hard so far to put this in, and every year has been an improvement," said PBCCS board member Dana Millin. "To give up what they have worked so hard for in the instruction and academics would be difficult. The Storyline piece is not heavily supported in Crook County financially. Placed base is very important here, and that creates the culture that we have here."

Smith replied that if they wanted to keep place-based education, there are ways to do so.

Millin said many public schools lack the "joyful learning" that the charter school students have developed as a result of the place-based education and Storyline styles.

"I do not agree with the mentality that there is a one-size-fits all education for every child, and I think that we a lot of times miss the mark by trying to standardize education and shove all kids into the same box," added PBCCS Administrator Jenn Berry-O'Shea.

While they agree on the teaching styles, board members also realize the decision to rejoin the school district needs to be well-thought out.

"Financially, I get the advantage for us down the road," Millin said. "That's the biggest concern down the road."

Smith understands that rejoining the district is a big decision for the Powell Butte community and told them that there is no rush.

"We can do it this year, we can do it next year, we can do it five years from now," Smith told them.

PBCCS board member Jeff Clay urged his fellow board members to educate themselves on the charter school's position within the school district before making any decisions. They will hold a work session followed by a board meeting on Dec. 7.

Berry-O'Shea called it a community decision.

"We make choices for kids and families, and we're always looking at what's best for our kids and our families," she said.

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