SALEM — For eight years, the Hanna sisters have run the Brothers Stage Stop, a multipurpose place that serves as a saloon, post office, cafe and gas station in the small town, population 35.
Six days a week, Jerrie Hanna, who is “65 years plus,” works at the stage stop in Brothers, which is about 40 miles east of Bend.
And every day, she looks across the highway and sees the former one-room school sitting empty of students.
One day, Hanna started to count. Some of the families in the small ranching community have children about to enter preschool, she said. There have been a couple of newborns.
And didn’t the couple who worked for Oregon Department of Transportation have kids who are homeschooled?
“We got to looking at the school and counting all the kids, and all of a sudden, we have a bunch of kids,” Hanna said, listing off about 13 students.
“All these little kids coming up, and we were looking at the school and we decided that school shouldn’t just be sitting over there,” Hanna said.
So Hanna dialed up her cousin, who happened to be the co-speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives last legislative session, Bruce Hanna. He told her to call her local lawmaker, House Republican Leader Mike McLane, of Powell Butte.
“I’m a sucker for little towns,” McLane said.
To resurrect the school district, which closed in 2005, the state Legislature would have to give its approval. McLane said he’s working on legislation that would reopen the Brothers School District. He’s already come up with a headline for an article, “Sisters try to save Brothers,” referring to the Hanna sisters.
“Oh my gosh,” Hanna said, thinking what could happen if the school could be reopened. “Kids wouldn’t have to travel to get an education, and we have a schoolteacher out here, and he’s just dying to teach these kids.”
Oregon Department of Education spokeswoman Crystal Greene said any requirements put on the school district, such as if a certain student population would need to be maintained, would have to be decided by lawmakers.
With school funding dollars scarce, the state trend has moved toward consolidating school districts to save money, not creating new ones. McLane expects some pushback.
Right now, the Crook County School District is in charge of maintaining the one-room school. Even though Brothers is located in Deschutes County, the district was transferred to the district in Prineville. Currently, only a handful of students attend Crook County School District from the former Brothers School District, according to Duane Yecha, the Crook County superintendent.
Yecha said it costs his district $26,000 a year to maintain the building. He would support a move toward the small town resurrecting its district.
“It’s a long drive,” he said. “I think every community wants to have its own school. It’s a community identity; everyone wants that.”
During the week, the alarm blares at 5:30 a.m. for Sarah Vert, 7, and her brother Cody Brabec, 15. Two and a half hours later, the two are sitting in a classroom.
Kim Vanderford, the students’ grandmother, said Sarah has been making the hourlong trek to school since she was in kindergarten. It means early nights, which can be hard to juggle since Sarah doesn’t usually make it home until around 4:30 in the afternoon and needs to do homework before bed. For Cody, it can be difficult with extracurricular activities after school. A lot of nights he stays with friends in Prineville, but Vanderford said the family also needs his help on the ranch, so there is often some negotiating involved.
Vanderford worries about when Cody graduates and is no longer on the bus with Sarah each day. There is a sense of security, she said, knowing Cody is there to look out for Sarah with them so far away.
“I would love to have the school open,” Vanderford said. “But I understand you have to have enough kids going there. Hopefully there are enough now.”
The 2013 legislative session kicks off in earnest today.