Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Crook County School District officials are inviting Powell Butte Community Charter School back to the district

When Powell Butte community members banded together to convert its longtime school to a charter school, the citizens faced the prospect of losing the school indefinitely. During the 2009-10 school year, the school board was taking a hatchet to anything and everything that was not considered absolutely essential to education in Crook County. Spring sports funding was eliminated, days were lopped off of the end of the school year, and students, parents and teachers lobbied — in many cases unsuccessfully — to hang on to programs and electives that were not deemed essential to a public education.

Powell Butte's school was also on the chopping block as it represented more operating and maintenance expenses, and students could still bus into Prineville if necessary. But residents fought and raised money and succeeded in opening a charter school that embraced a place-based curriculum that put students out in the field for hands-on learning.

Eight years later, the school district has come out the other side of the recession storm and wants to welcome the school back to the district. School board members point out that the district is in a better financial position to keep the building properly maintained and to deal with the growing traffic safety concerns of operating a school next to a busy highway. They added that the district could also pay teachers in Powell Butte better and provide them better benefits.

This is likely all true, and while it wasn't stated as an argument in favor, if the district were to bring the Powell Butte school back into the fold, the district would once again receive all of the state school funding for each of the school's students instead of a just a fifth of the money.

While this looks like nothing but good from where the district sits, Powell Butte educators and residents aren't quite convinced. They argue that the community worked hard to establish its place-based educational system. They stress that it offers a variety of fields of studies for students that promote active citizens and stewards of the environment and place they live. They prefer to not put all kids into the same educational box.

When Powell Butte residents pushed to open a charter school, the lack of trust in the school district was unmistakable. Citizens feared that school leaders didn't care about whether their little rural school stayed open or not, and that they would close it at any time if it helped the bottom line.

Perhaps the wounds of that experience have yet to fully heal, but hopefully enough time has passed for charter school leaders and Powell Butte residents to consider what the district is offering. This time, they are asking to take the school back and to pump money into it to fix what is now the oldest and most broken-down building in the district. No longer is the community fixture in danger of forever closing its doors.

Yes, charter school leaders should look at every angle of this proposal and make sure they aren't missing something important. And hopefully the school district could find a way to preserve some of, or all of, the place-based education opportunities the school currently enjoys. But at this juncture, the school district is backed by a new school bond and state resources that would help the Powell Butte school building stay open, functional, and perhaps safer for students who need to cross the highway to get inside its doors each morning.

Regardless of what happened in the past, this invitation is worth considering.

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