A century in the life of Gaston schools, Part Deux

Aerial view of Gaston schools, circa 1985.

Aerial view of Gaston schools, circa 1985.

The creation of the Gaston Union High School District in 1930 was a major step toward the creation of the modern-day Gaston School District, but some of the many diverse elementary districts maintained their independence for decades to come.

The next major step came in May 1950, when voters of the Gaston Union High School District agreed to foot half of the $80,000 bill to build the first phase of the current Gaston Elementary School. The state overturned the results of that vote based on the wording of the ballot, but voters went to the polls again in August and approved a revised measure. Even then, however, the elementary school and high school officially remained separate districts, with separate levies and budgets.

Confused? Then hang on, because that was just the start of an academic rollercoaster that hasn’t entirely stopped since.

By 1950 some of the one-room elementary schools in the area had closed their doors, but others, including Forest Dale, Wapato, Lakeview, Cherry Grove, and Hill, clung to their independence, if only barely. The same week in May that voters in the Gaston Elementary district passed a levy 51 to 4, voters at the Hill School (at Laurelwood and Spring Hill roads), defeated their levy 52 to 3. Hill managed to regroup and pass a later levy, but the days of independent schools were numbered.

Throughout the 1950s, districts across the county merged together into larger districts, soon leaving Gaston as the region’s smallest. In 1959, the state said that the Gaston-area districts, including Gaston itself, were no longer viable. Wapato and Lakeview, both in Yamhill County, were urged to merge with Yamhill schools, but voted instead to remain loyal to Gaston, at least for the moment. Board members of each district pleaded with Yamhill to allow them to reconsider in the likely event that the Gaston School District would fail within the decade.

Sure enough, by 1962 Gaston’s future again was put to the test. State officials wanted Gaston, Cherry Grove, Hill, Forest Dale and others to merge into Forest Grove. Hill and Cherry Grove agreed that they no longer could survive, but voted to join Gaston rather than Forest Grove. Gaston voters rejected the merger, but lost a valuable chunk of assessed land on its northern edge to Forest Grove.

Over the next few years, Gaston continued to survive, if only barely. Several more consolidation efforts followed, this time with Yamhill to the south. Legal issues arose over the county line, which runs a few hundred feet south of the Gaston school buildings. Yamhill voters didn’t have any interest in the scant tax base in the Yamhill County portion of the district or in swallowing (or being swallowed by) the bigger chunk in Washington County, and rejected the overtures.

We’re only up to the 1960s, so there’s plenty more to come …