SLSD board set to address Latham, new priorities

Sometimes no news is good news; particularly when talking to your auditor.

In a special session Jan. 22, the South Lane School District (SLSD) Board heard from Albany-based accounting firm Accuity, LLC, who reported no major financial findings in its audit of the district’s previous fiscal year.

Though the district ended the year with a negative net position of $7.7 million, auditor Kori Sarrett reassured the board, “You are very similar to other school districts in the state of your size. That negative is coming from PERS liabilities. … We expect that the PERS liability will stabilize and we will stop seeing it grow as much as it has been,” Sarrett said.

“There’s really nothing we can do about it in the short term,” said the district’s business supervisor Phil Scrima. “Long-term, it’s an issue.”

A clean bill of health for the SLSD’s financial books is more good news for a district whose financial integrity with the community has paid off in previous years, as with the passing of a 2016 bond which saw the construction of the new Harrison Elementary School and other projects.

And a new project may be just on the horizon.

On Jan. 7, the board decided in a 5-2 vote to close Latham School after months of deliberation on the issue.

In last week’s meeting, Interim Superintendent Larry Sullivan elicited ideas from the board regarding the Latham School transition.

A desire to honor the school’s history and community was thematic to the input.

“I think there should be some reference to the history of Latham,” said board member Merlene Martin. “The history of Latham is very important to our town.”

Others expressed an interest in involving staff, parents and students.

Board member Jerry Settelmeyer suggested “a celebration that invites back, and as broadly as can be advertised… the [alumni].”

More ideas included preserving an old bell from the school and holding a raffle to increase community involvement. 

SLSD Director of Communications Garrett Bridgens, speaking to The Sentinel, emphasized the board’s commitment to a process that adequately satisfies all affected by the move.

“We take this very seriously,” he said. “We have said it, the board has said it, that we want this transition to be as smooth as possible for students, parents and staff. We’re going to work really hard to make sure that happens.”

Sullivan echoed the sentiment.

“We’re going to do our best to honor the community, the Latham community, the alumni that have been there,” he said. “We’re working with our community, our staff and so on to figure out how we’re going to do a really great transition for everyone.”

The board will reconvene on Feb. 4 with a draft transition plan which will present a clearer outline of Latham’s five-month transition window.

District and board priorities for the year were also discussed at the meeting.

Sullivan, who assumed his now two-year position July 1, 2018, had been asked by the board to give feedback preceding plans this spring to work with the Oregon School Board Association to develop board priorities.

“I’ve tried to be as objective as I could be … to give you guys a little perspective,” he said.

Sullivan emphasized the need for the board to develop goals and priorities that align with district’s. Topics included safety and security of students, addressing undocumented students’ needs, early childhood/afterschool program expansion and investing in quality instruction.

“I want to make sure we have quality teachers,” said Sullivan of the last topic. “If you have sustained … professional development, it has a direct impact on students.”


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