RIVERIA CLOSURE: THIS YEAR OR NEXT?

February 28, 2002 12:00 am
RIVERIA PATRIOTISM: Students in Stacy Websters kindergarten class at Riveria School sing I Love the USA during the schools patriotic assembly Wednesday. The school board is debating whether to close the school at the end of this school year or in June 2003. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
RIVERIA PATRIOTISM: Students in Stacy Websters kindergarten class at Riveria School sing I Love the USA during the schools patriotic assembly Wednesday. The school board is debating whether to close the school at the end of this school year or in June 2003. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Would it be best to close Riveria Elementary School at the end of the school year or in June 2003?

Compelling arguments can be made for both closure dates, the La Grande School Board learned at a work session Wednesday.

The meeting was conducted to discuss a recommendation of the school districts facilities committee to close the school on North Second Street in June 2003 to save money and because of its poor condition.

If Riveria were closed then, it is believed the transition process would be easier on the children because children and parents would have a year to prepare for it.

We need time to make them excited about the changes, said Melissa Jackman, a Riveria parent. I need to know that we can get the children excited.

Superintendent Dan Arriola supports keeping the school open for another year.

We want to have a wonderful closure for a beautiful building that has been an important part of the community, Arriola said. I think that taking time would pay off for us.

Others believe that closing the building 15 months from now would draw out a painful process.

Dragging it on another year would not gain us anything, School Board Chairman Ron Arritola said.

He noted that a new kindergarten class would start at Riveria, adding to the number of children with connections to the doomed school.

Some parents noted that many annual events at Riveria would be cloaked in sadness in 2002-03 since everyone would know they would be the last. This would include events such as Riverias annual Halloween Spook-A-Rama.

The last Spook-A-Rama would be horrible, Riveria parent Sherri Wright said.

Difficult transition

Earlier it was announced that steps will be taken to ease the transition process for Riverias students if the school is shut down this year.

Under one proposal, Riverias students would be kept together at their new school in the classes they would have been in if Riveria had remained open. They also could be assigned the same teacher they would have had at Riveria.

A number of parents and teachers said this would ultimately hurt the students since they might be segregated from other children in their new school.

Riveria kindergarten teacher Stacy Webster agrees this could be a problem.

They would be separated from the others. The only time they would interact with the other students would be at recess and before and after school, Webster said.

The school district has open classroom space in its four other elementary schools because enrollment is down. Riverias students would be sent to all four schools next fall if the school is closed in June.

Closing Riveria would mean that redistricting of school boundaries would have to occur. The school district would do this in 2002-03.

Some at Wednesdays meeting asked if redistricting could be done by the start of the 2002-03 school year if Riveria is closed this June.

This would mean that Riveria students could begin attending their new schools permanently a year earlier. Otherwise they would have to switch again after the 2002-03 school year, meaning that they might attend three schools in three years.

Closing Riveria would save the district about $359,000 a year. Arriola said he believes the school district could afford to keep Riveria open another year. One reason is that the school district has a contingency fund of $717,000 and again may have a strong cash carryover at the end of the school year. A cash carryover is comprised of a districts excess revenue collected and its underestimated expenditures.

Riverias vulnerability to an earthquake is a major reason why some want to close the school this year. A seismic hazards study conducted by Pinnacle Engineering of Boise gives Riveria the lowest possible rating for safety in the event of an earthquake.

There is no legal upside to waiting (to close the school), said Ray Baum, the school districts attorney.

The school board will decide on the issue when it meets March 13.