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Directors, community members express concern about relocation of charter school to Rockwood

This week, the Corbett School Board is expected to take public testimony and then make a decision on whether to renew the district’s charter school, a program that has divided this tight-knit community.

The renewal hearing and special school board meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, in the multipurpose room of the schools.

At the heart of community concerns about the charter renewal is contention over the school’s alternative philosophy — with an emphasis on Advanced Placement classes — and how it fits into the mission of the overall school district.

Beyond the issue of renewing the school, the patrons of the Corbett School District are only now beginning to digest the last revelation that a plan has emerged to pluck the charter school out of the Corbett community, and transplant it to a new building in Gresham’s Rockwood neighborhood, which is served by the Reynolds School District.

With rumors of the charter school moving to Rockwood, The Outlook stopped by the Rockwood Community Development Corporation office, which is the site of the proposed future school.

Startled, staff members confirmed the proposed school plan, but declined to comment and deferred questions to Corbett Charter School Director Bob Dunton.

Dunton did not return a phone message or email from The Outlook related to the proposed school in Rockwood; however, the city of Gresham confirmed a pre-application for a 53,000-square-foot K-12 charter school in Rockwood at 19043 S.E. Stark St.

The site would consolidate 11 parcels, and the materials were received by the city on Sept. 13, 2013.

The narrative statement for the site concept for Rockwood Charter School states the school “is an existing charter school program located in Corbett, Ore., that would relocate to this property.”

At the Jan. 15 school board meeting, director Victoria Purvine raised concern about the charter building in Rockwood and how it could affect enrollment numbers for the district and the planning for an upcoming bond election.

After a failed November 2013 bond measure, the district is reassessing for a new bond in May or November of this year. Purvine wondered how the charter school relocation could influence these plans.

Board Chairman Charlie O’Neil said he believes most people want to maintain the small-school environment, amenities and community of Corbett and that in letters from charter parents, they expressed love for this type of school atmosphere.

“I think that’s the main reason they come here,” he said. “I can’t see open enrollment stopping. The answer is we’ve got to remain a very good school.”

But Director Annette Calcagno said she felt the potential Rockwood relocation should be taken seriously in regard to enrollment numbers and the future of Corbett schools. She expressed concern over building too much in Corbett with bond revenues, not knowing if relocation of the charter school would drive down enrollment in the traditional schools.

Already, Calcagno takes her son to school in Rockwood everyday and she could see why people would choose that option, especially if they are out-of-district families who live closer to Rockwood.

“What if we build it and they don’t come?” said Superintendent Randy Trani of funding improvements at the traditional public schools in Corbett. He said competition from online schools and other school options already exist.

“I’m up for the competition,” Trani said. “Let’s say the wheels come off and we build it and they don’t come... Are you going to bus them around a brand new school or take them to that new school? ... In the worst case scenario, the dragon comes and fries us all. We’ve built a school for the kids who live here and they’re going to get to go to it.”

Along with the renewal hearing, a town hall meeting about Corbett schools organized by community members will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Corbett Grange. The meeting will be followed by a potluck.

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