JEWELL — The Jewell School District is looking to add more housing on campus to help attract staff.
School districts, like most other employers, have struggled to attract employees because of the region’s lack of affordable housing. But Jewell, located deep in the rural southeastern corner of Clatsop County, is isolated from any major housing center, with many educators having to commute.
The rural campus hosts five houses for staff, including one built in the 2000s for the superintendent. But the school district still has a waiting list of three or four hoping for a spot on campus, Superintendent Alice Hunsaker said.
“I don’t know of any other investment that could move the dial on student achievement more than teacher housing,” said Stephen Phillips, the school district’s new executive administrator and a likely candidate to replace Hunsaker when she and Principal Terrence Smyth leave at the end of the year.
Phillips has talked about two spots around campus for a single-family home or fourplex. He recently met with Gail Henrikson, the county’s community development director, about the next steps.
When the superintendent’s house was built, the school district had to go through an amendment to the state’s comprehensive land use plan regarding urbanization in rural areas, she said.
“The property where they want to put the units is agriculture-forestry,” Henrikson said. “The zoning district allows schools and all buildings essential to the operation of the school.”
The state has agreed in the past that a single-family home would be consistent with that intent, she said, but now the school district is looking at a fourplex.
One support staffer and five teachers and administrators live on campus, and the houses there have always been full with a waiting list of people trying to get in, Hunsaker said.
“The No. 1 challenge to get a new teacher here is the commute,” said Brian Meier, a school board member.
Staff living on campus pay market-rate rent to the school district. While the housing has not penciled out financially in the past, it has improved the schools, Meier said.
The school district has four three-bedroom homes, some with single staff living in them, Phillips said. His plan would be a multiplex with smaller two-bedroom units, making more larger homes available for families.
School board members were supportive of more housing, but asked Phillips to bring back a conceptual plan with cost estimates before they would signal support for spending money on permitting.
Building a new house on campus to attract a superintendent became a contentious issue in the community. Before any new application for housing, the school district would have to notify property owners within 750 feet and hold a public meeting, Henrikson said.