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Bethany Baker, The World 

Myrtle Point's Isaac Warner (8) runs the ball in the game against Gold Beach at Myrtle Point High School on Friday. Gold Beach defeated Myrtle Point, 60-16.

Students are flooding into Winter Lakes School
Majority of its student population are there on inter-district transfer agreements

COQUILLE – More and more parents are opting for alternative education.

Students from across Coos County are flocking to the Coquille School District, in particular its Winter Lakes School that has a diverse educating system for advanced learners and others that need a little extra push.

What stands out are the numbers.

The inter-district transfer agreements, which allows a student to switch districts, are growing every year. For the Coquille School District this year, there are 95 students from Myrtle Point, 54 from Coos Bay, and 31 from North Bend.

In total, there are 225 inter-district transfer agreements for the Coquille School District this year.

Of those, 147 are for Winter Lakes.

“When we established, none of us imagined this exact scenario we’re in,” said Winter Lakes Principal Tony Jones. “When we did our formative meetings to get our legs established, our early name was Winter Lakes Regional Learning Center, but that’s what we’ve evolved into.”

Seven years ago when Winter Lakes became a school, a brainchild of the Coquille School District Superintendent Tim Sweeney, it was a cooperative between Coquille, Bandon and Myrtle Point school districts. This allowed superintendents and principals to refer students to Winter Lakes if they needed an alternative school setting.

“That first year we had about 50 students in total and adjusted our curriculum to give students more time to complete assignments, but overall we were still very much a brick and mortar school that kids had to attend every day,” Jones said.

Also when it started out, there existed what was called a tuition agreement. This meant that any students from Myrtle Point who attended Winter Lakes still counted as a student of the Myrtle Point School District. Because of this, Myrtle Point schools still received state funding for those children.

“Those students were educated by us, but we had worked out a financial deal where Myrtle Point still maintained any special education services or needs for them,” Jones said.

However, that tuition agreement ended this year.

“It ended with the change of administration at Myrtle Point, so every student with us is on an inter-district transfer,” Jones said. “This is the first year we’ve not had a tuition agreement. This means that Myrtle Point receives none of the state funding with the transfers.”

When the agreement ended, Winter Lakes and Coquille schools weren’t sure how it would impact their numbers. What they didn’t expect was for those numbers to increase as a result.

Myrtle Point School Board Chairman Dave Robinson told The World that they only show 45 students on inter-district transfers, but also said that doesn’t always stop parents from sending their kids to other schools.

“It’s our goal to know when students transfer, but it seems they do it anyway and without permission or transfer agreements,” he said. “Other districts seem happy to take them.”

As for terminating the tuition agreement, Robinson couldn’t say how much money the district is losing out on now but said it’s “painful financially.”

“Our first year as a cooperative meant we had students come to us from Myrtle Point, approximately a third of our population in the early years, so it’s nothing new to have a good number of Myrtle Point students,” Jones said. “But we have a higher percentage of Myrtle Point students now more than ever.”

Jones believes one of the reasons so many Myrtle Point students are coming to Coquille is due to student frustration.

“Often times the students are just feeling frustration where they’ve had the same teachers and it hasn’t been successful for them,” Jones said. “They get ‘so-and-so’s’ class again and need to get caught up on credits. We’ve also gotten younger students from Myrtle Point looking for educational options, much like students from everywhere.”

As for the inter-district transfer agreements, Robinson didn’t say much as to why his district is signing them and letting them go.

“I think superintendents, generally, get into a sense of equity where you sign a transfer for Student A and Student B has the same request, it’s hard to deny Student B,” Jones said. “Fair and equitable treatment is probably why Myrtle Point hasn’t put the brakes on the transfers.”

Though Myrtle Point seems to be bleeding students to the Coquille School District, only 39 of them are attending Winter Lakes this year. That is the same number of students from the Coos Bay School District.

“Something that’s happened over the past three years is we’ve seen a tremendous amount of students from the Bay Area,” Jones said. “North Bend and Coos Bay are major players now.”

Coos Bay Schools Superintendent Bryan Trendell acknowledged that those students are often from families looking for alternative programs that don’t require them to be in school every day.

“The one program we have that is an option for them is the Resource Link program,” Trendell wrote to The World in an email. “They are currently full with a waiting list. Some of our students over the past years have chosen to transfer to Winter Lakes because their program offered them a way to catch up on credits in an efficient manner.”

Trendell added that Coos Bay School District is in the process of restructuring its Destinations program to better meet the needs of these students. He hopes that by doing so there will be fewer students wanting to take advantage of Resource Link.

“I think it is important to note that we also get students from Coquille and other smaller districts in the area because our high school offers more college level courses, as well as our CTE programs,” Trendell said. “I don’t know that any one district has all the programs to meet the needs of all the students. I think it is great that we have the inter-district agreements between our districts to ensure all of our students in our area are getting access to the program that meets their needs.”

Though Coquille Schools Superintendent Tim Sweeney doesn’t see what’s happening as an exodus per say, but admitted that overall the district and Winter Lakes is seeing quite the influx.

“We originally created Winter Lakes to serve about 50 kids and right now there are over 200,” Sweeney said. “That’s a big increase. With early learning, it’s meeting the needs of the parents.”

Freedom at Winter Lakes

When Jones said Winter Lakes is fulfilling its original name of a regional learning center, it’s true. Right now, Winter Lakes has students attending from the Bay Area, Port Orford, Reedsport, and even as far as Ashland and Klamath Falls.

“We’re all about choice,” Jones said. “The people here are teachers and administrators and service case managers for students, so we give a lot of directions and possibilities on what kids can do. The combination is what make us attractive and makes us successful to get students to graduate. There is a small support group for each student.”

During its second year of operation, Winter Lakes administration received a lot of questions from parents about an online curriculum. From those inquiries, the school morphed itself to develop a virtual academy in addition to the brick and mortar school. Both were run from the administration office.

“That first year we had 30 percent of our students opting for the virtual component and 70 percent for the brick and mortar,” Jones said. “Our third year numbers showed that it balanced out but by our fourth year, it tipped the other way. We set up a situation where parents could choose what they want their children to do and have greater choice in how their education looked.”

What the school currently does gives students and parents options for what attendance looks like, and can choose how much to work from home or at school.

“Parents can fluctuate too, so if they think they want students to work totally from home but it’s not working out, we can make adjustments on the fly,” Jones said. “Our goal is to help the students as best we can.”

Though the school has an online curriculum, project-based learning is also a major component that gives kids an opportunity to do supplemental work.

“So there’s three different modes of learning they can choose from,” Jones said. “I tell people we function like a traditional charter, but we are a public school.”

One major change Winter Lakes has seen in the past two years is a growing number of elementary students, just as other local districts have seen.

“It’s not an extremely large number, but going back three years the numbers showed a dozen,” Jones said. “Last year we had 50 and this year is the same.”

However, another trend are that students are attending on a regular basis, which has changed the school’s dynamic.

“In the last two years we’ve had to add two new classrooms designated for our younger students, hired a full time elementary teacher in the building to accommodate the elementary students, and then this year we opened a separate middle school classroom for the first time,” Jones said.

“How big will Winter Lakes get?” is one of the most common questions Jones is asked.

“We have plans as a district to support expansion of Winter Lakes so long as students are there to support it,” Jones said. “Each year we’ve drastically increased our numbers and now we expect to continue to increase. At some point we will hit our saturation, but not yet.”

Beaver Hill reroute underway

COOS COUNTY -- Quickly after a contract was signed last week with the Knife River Corporation, construction has begun on the rerouting of Beaver Hill Road after a landslide took out a portion of the road nine months ago.

Beaver Hill Road was washed out during some severe rains last January and the county has been trying to get the connecting road between U.S. Highway 101 and state Highway 42 up and running again ever since.

The county couldn’t afford the estimated $1.5 million rerouting of Beaver Hill Road, but luckily they were able to apply for emergency federal grants.

Many commuters are upset that it’s taken as long as it has for work on the reroute to begin. The reason for delays is because Coos County had to apply and gain approval for the federal grants it’s using to reroute the road. Beaver Hill Road is the easiest way to get from Coquille to Bandon

The grants came with the stipulation that the project be overseen by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

After the landslide which took the road out last January, the road was supposed to be rerouted and opened by March, but was later pushed back to October.

To keep costs down an old logging road is being utilized in the rerouting. Months ago, gravel was laid along the road in preparation for the new road's construction.

“It’s an embankment job so there’s a lot of cutting and grading that goes into it,“ Knife River General Manager Chris Peach said.

Last week Knife River won the bid for the federal contract at $1.7 million, with an agreement in the contract that the road be ready for traffic by the end of the month.

“Knife River is a large company, but they have a very local focus. I’m very pleased they landed the contract,” Coos County Commissioner John Sweet said.

Knife River has done quite a bit of work with the county in the past. They currently have five different paving contracts with the county including one along Shinglehouse Slough.

The rerouting project is expected to be ready for traffic by the end of the month.

“We should have the new road open by Oct. 31. Then of course even after its open there’s still some more work to be done on it, but the final completion should be the end of November,” Peach said. 

Coos Bay sues NMFS over restrictive flood map recommendations

COOS BAY — The city of Coos Bay filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against the National Marine Fisheries Service over its recommendation for more restrictive floodplain regulations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood insurance program, which would restrict development in most of downtown.

In City of Coos Bay v. NMFS, the city objects to the stringent land-use restrictions recommended by NMFS in its biological opinion issued last year

Damien Schiff, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation which is representing the city in the lawsuit, said NMFS’s biological opinion is an improper expansion of both FEMA and NMFS’s authority.

“The heart of the lawsuit is that this is something that belongs in either local government’s jurisdiction or the states jurisdiction,” Schiff said, “This is not something the service (NMFS) should be requiring FEMA to do in regards to its flood insurance.”

NMFS is asking FEMA to put high-risk floodplains off-limits to development, because it says it will better protect endangered species like salmon and steelhead.

Floodplains are areas along rivers, stream and shorelines that are regularly inundated with water. That distinction applies to chunks of downtown Coos Bay and Hwy 101. The National Flood Insurance Program identified 251 communities in Oregon as flood-prone, commonly known as the 100-year flood area.

“The issue really centers around the fact that Oregon is one of the most highly-regulated land use states in the nation,” Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock said, “Only further complicated by the fact that majority of our city falls within 100- year floodplain and tsunami inundation zone.”

Craddock said the city doesn’t believe FEMA has the legislative authority to implement rules that are attached to the Endangered Species Act. Under the proposed changes, local communities would have to abstain from economic development — which would hinder projects like the old mill facility or the future construction of wastewater treatment plant no. 1 — to be eligible for federal flood insurance. 

“Currently, if the city doesn’t abide by the rules of the flood insurance program and we don’t pass their rules on through ordinances we jeopardize the ability to get flood insurance,” Craddock said.

FEMA’s insurance program provides low-cost federally subsidized flood insurance to cover risks incurred in flood-prone areas. Without the insurance plan, many banks and lenders wouldn’t finance home building or development.

“Any new development in the mapped floodplain areas will be substantially more difficult to finance,” attorney Schiff said.

The entire issue stems from a previous lawsuit eight years ago.

In April of 2016, NMFS told FEMA that it needed to change its implementation of its flood insurance program in order to better protect endangered species and issued recommendations to restrict development in the 100-year floodplain.

The recommendation was borne out of a 2009 lawsuit in which FEMA was sued by several Oregon environmental groups over violations of the Endangered Species Act. The suit argued that FEMA failed to consider its floodplain insurance plan’s effect on protected salmon and steelhead by fostering development in high-risk flood areas.

As part of the settlement, FEMA agreed to collaborate with NMFS. The fisheries service is responsible for protecting migrating fish under the Endangered Species Act.

While Coos Bay’s lawsuit is over restrictive floodplain regulations, Schiff said it points to a much larger issue of exceeding authority.

“The larger point that although this is a controversy that arises out of flood insurance it really goes beyond it,” Schiff said, “As an upshot you’ll have NMFS and Fish and Wildlife having significantly expanded authority under the Endangered Species Act.”

Schiff isn’t the only one who’s called it a case of government overreach.

During a roundtable last year, Fourth District Rep. Peter DeFazio  said if FEMA implements NMFS’s recommendations, its setting itself up for lawsuits.

“They’re going to absolutely absurd lengths,” DeFazio said in a November interview with The World, “It’s hard to believe that the downtown area of Coos Bay is somehow defined as critical salmon habitat and prohibited from future development.”