The East Valley School Board voted to unwind its K-8 configuration Tuesday, directing Interim Superintendent Tom Gresch to hash out the details. Gresch hopes to have this done for the 2014-15 school year.
The four K-8 schools, Trent, Trentwood, Otis Orchards and East Farms will be K-6 and a new middle school for seventh- and eighth-grade students will open. Continuous Curriculum School, which has always been K-8, will remain as it is.
“From my perspective, my mind is made up,” said board member Justin Voelker during Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t need any more time to look at it.”
The decision comes after a new board was elected in November. Community members have come out in force at every meeting since then, either to speak out in favor of the K-8 configuration, or against it.
This past weekend, the board held the second of its open forums to discuss the issue. Students, parents, community members and teachers mostly spoke out against the configuration.
Board chairman Mike Novakovich said Tuesday afternoon that he gets the general feeling that the K-8 configuration wasn’t necessarily bad, but the district didn’t have the facilities or the public buy-in to support it.
He noted he has heard many times about the lack of lockers or students crossing a muddy field to get to class in different buildings, but those were just frustrations.
But he also heard there was not enough face-to-face time for students and their teachers, algebra classes being held in the hallways, and one class at the enrichment center in which students watch movies and are later tested on the music they heard during those movies.
“Those things become real to me,” he said.
Longtime board member Mitch Jensen said during the meeting that this new board has had three months to look into an issue that has taken five years to get here. He said it was irresponsible to make this decision without knowing what the financial impact of it will be.
Board member Fred Helms said it was time to move forward.
“The teachers and students need to know what’s going on,” he said.
Mike Harris, another longtime board member, said he has neither had enough time to digest what was said at the open forums, nor has he had a chance to look at the obstacles, including the cost of unwinding K-8.
“I don’t think we’ve done our due diligence,” he said.
Jensen said the district has yet to see the impact the K-8 configuration will have on students, since it has only been fully K-8 since the beginning of the school year. He said he has yet to see any research the other board members have read and the board hasn’t had a single work session to discuss it.
“We need the information under our belt before we say, ‘Here you go, Tom, fix it,’ ” he said.
“Is K-8 perfect?” he asked. “I never said it would be. But how can you switch without evidence that it’s not working?”
Voelker made the motion to vote on the issue and Helms seconded. Jensen then used a parliamentary procedure, objecting to the consideration of the question, to try to stop the vote.
“This is a cost issue,” he said. “You’re putting the district in a financial bind by doing this.”
Gresch and Novakovich scrambled to look up Robert’s Rules of Order to respond to Jensen’s objection. The board needed a vote with a two-thirds majority to proceed. Jensen voted no, the other four voted yes.
Jensen and Harris voted no to unwind K-8, while Novakovich, Voelker and Helms voted yes.
Gresch and his staff will come up with the plan as for when and how the district will begin the process.
“We’re leaving that up to him,” Novakovich said before the meeting.
Novakovich said he knows there will be anger after the decision is made, since a lot of time and effort has gone into K-8.
“The main thing we can do is act quickly and decisively,” he said.
“Communication is going to be key,” Gresch said of the coming changes. “The main thing you will be seeing from my office is communication.”
He said he is putting together multiple leadership teams. He will need to find a principal and an assistant principal. There will be committees formed for teaching and support positions and he will need to work with union leadership.
Plus, there are deadlines the district needs to meet contractually if they need to lay off any staff. April 15 is the deadline for staff to complete a questionnaire regarding certification, assignment and volunteer transfers to other buildings. Prior to this date, staff may apply for a year’s leave of absence.
“If there is going to be a reduction in force, then May 1 is the date on that,” Gresch said in an interview last month. “The district shall notify in writing all employees who may be subject to a RIF. Final notice is given on or before May 15.”
He said if the decision to change the configuration would have come in April, he may not be making the configuration change for next year, but a year from now.
But since there is still time to make decisions contractually, he decided to make the changes one time instead of making interim changes.
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