PENDLETON — Much of the water has receded from the Pendleton area following last week’s Umatilla River flood, but the Pendleton School District is concerned that some of its effects may be permanent.
At a meeting Monday, Julie Smith, the district’s director of special programs, told the Pendleton School Board that 30 students were displaced as a result of the flood.
The flood was felt acutely at Washington Elementary School, which serves students in the heavily flooded areas like Riverside and the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Smith said about 40% of Washington’s students were absent on Friday, the day after the flooding began.
The district responded to the displaced students by offering counseling, providing free or reduced lunches, and encouraging them to fill out a livability assessment from the Red Cross to determine needs for housing assistance. Schools are also trying to connect families with emergency resources from the Salvation Army, Altrusa, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
But what the district worries about long term is that the floods will exacerbate an issue that’s been ongoing for years — declining student enrollment.
According to the district’s latest enrollment report, the school system had a net loss of five students in January.
Of the students that left the district, Matt Yoshioka, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, said 65% moved to another town.
The two most common reasons families give the district for leaving Pendleton are jobs and housing.
Superintendent Chris Fritsch said the floods had the potential to affect both jobs — major employers like Keystone RV Co. and Rocky Mountain Colby Pipe Co. were flooded — and housing.
“I understand the impact of jobs … but people need to have a place to live too,” he said. “That’s been one of our problems is that people have been leaving for jobs and affordable housing.”
The flood hit multiple mobile home communities in the Riverside area hard, and Smith said some of the families that live there may have trouble finding a new place to live in town if their home is uninhabitable.
“It’s not just that we don’t have a lot of housing,” she said. “It’s that we don’t have a lot of affordable housing.”
District officials have long said the job and housing markets are out of their control, but Fritsch told the board that he would continue to work with the city government to help solve these problems.