Boad and community have opportunity to question Rob Saxton on his recent analysis of the district

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Consultant Rob Saxton listens to the concerns of a Corbett resident about the Corbett School District at the Tuesday, April 2, special school board meeting. The consultant who did an independent evaluation of the Corbett School District responded to questions about his assessment from the school board and community Tuesday night and reiterated his recommendation that Corbett could be a dynamic and effective school district with a smaller student body.

The Corbett School community packed into the school multipurpose room for a special school board meeting on Tuesday April 2. Rob Saxton, the consultant and former head of the Oregon Department of Education, answered questions about his 53-page report.

"You can have a good, fully functioning district with 871 students," Saxton told the gathering.

The district currently has 1,211 students. Saxton said the 871 number is not set in stone but could vary from between 800 and 1,000 students.

The community has failed in the last four attempts to pass a bond to upgrade Corbett school buildings. The district and community have been beset with disagreements and mistrust for years, which led to the inability to pass a facilities bond.

One big issue that seems to stymie the bond passage is that about half the students in Corbett schools come from out of district. Some community members object to this and want only children who live in the district to attend Corbett schools.

The law that allows out-of-district transfers expired and the Corbett administration has discussed the idea of creating a charter school district to allow the schools to keep educating kids who are not from Corbett and retain the state funds that come with them.

Saxton favors the formation of a charter district so Corbett could still accept out-of-district students, but many fewer. He said a district with just Corbett students would probably be disappointing.

"Six hundred is actually too small. You wouldn't be able to offer the robust program that you want to offer," he said.

Saxton said he was searching for a number of out-of-district students that would create trust and entice no voters to change their votes and pass a bond.

"What is the level of enrollment that changes the relationship with the community" that would produce a higher likelihood of passing a bond, he wondered aloud to the gathering.

A Corbett community group advocated for an independent evaluation of the district as a way to build trust between the schools and some community members and potentially pass a bond. The district retained Saxton for the assessment.

Saxton praised the district for its consistently high graduation rate, strong achievement on college-level courses and its "mindful" focus on doing a small number of things very well.

Saxton's report contained multiple recommendations for the district.

First, he urged the community to form a committee to try and put their differences aside and create a shared vision for the school district as a way to end the friction between some community members and the school district.

"Currently, the disagreements are so strong neither side is ever going to completely prevail, and frankly, neither side is completely right," Saxton's report said.

Saxton also recommended other changes to the district including the shrinking of the district and dropping a requirement that high school students take multiple college-level courses.

The requirement for taking seven Advanced Placement classes to graduate also irks some residents. Seven AP courses is an extraordinarily high number for students in any district.

Saxton said that many community members believe that the Corbett schools program, especially at the high school, is "designed to attract students from outside the district."

The district and board will continue to discuss the recommendations, the plan to become a charter district and forming the visioning and value committee at future meetings.

The next regular school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, in the school's multipurpose building, 35800 E. Historic Columbia River Highway.

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