Black Butte School head teacher Delaney Sharp and his family enjoy their house in Camp Sherman.  photo by T. Lee Brown
Black Butte School head teacher Delaney Sharp and his family enjoy their house in Camp Sherman. photo by T. Lee Brown

Fine communities, stunning forests and popular festivals: Sisters Country is filled with great things. Workforce housing isn't one of them. As in ski towns around the country, business owners and civic leaders are sometimes stymied by the lack of reasonably priced housing. Finding and retaining employees becomes difficult. One local school district solved the problem by purchasing a house outright.

Daniel Petke is board chair of the Black Butte School District. This tiny district is comprised of a single school in Camp Sherman, serving around 30 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. Despite the name, the district is not associated with Black Butte Ranch. It does accept inter-district transfers from area schools.

For many years, Black Butte School struggled "to keep enough staff consistency to stay viable," Petke told The Nugget. Lack of local housing was identified as a primary concern.

Unlike at most larger schools, Black Butte School isn't run by a principal. Instead, the board shares administration duties with a head teacher, who also teaches hands-on.

"The board really wanted the head teacher to be in the community, for sure," Petke said. "It's hard to make any connections in a community if you're not living there, participating in the events, getting to know more people.

"Environmentally it's no good," he added, "when you have people living in Bend and Redmond that have to commute to Sisters and Camp Sherman."

The idea of the district buying a house came up during a visioning process several years ago.

"We were digging into reserves quite substantially," Petke said. The board looked at ways to gain income and save expenses. "Our visioning leader was Jay Wilkins, who's on the Sisters School Board now. He was really good at guiding us through the process."

The board considered buying a house as "a way to either save some money or draw in new teachers." They did not move forward with the idea at that time.

The visioning process reaffirmed the school's long-held commitment to outdoor education. Students regularly ski, study at the nearby fish hatchery, and take their studies outside.

The school also committed to STEAM, an educational approach using Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics to guide student exploration, discussion, and critical thinking. Later, the board sought a new head teacher who could lead both STEAM and outdoor education.

An experienced outdoorsman and teacher, Delaney Sharp fit the bill. Yet the Sharp family could not find housing in the tight local market. A house came up for sale near the school, and the board took action.

"It was just a no-brainer to buy a house for the head teacher," Petke said.

The Sharps pay rent to the district at fair market value.

The housing decision made sense financially, as well as helping the district achieve its larger goals.

"Our reserve was sitting there earning hardly any interest," Petke noted. "We can always sell the house later or rent it to other staff."

Under Sharp's tenure, Black Butte School is full, with a long waiting list of students hoping to transfer in from Sisters. Sharp's wife, Jennie, works at the school part-time. They plan for their young children to enroll, too.

"This house has allowed us to stay here," Sharp told The Nugget. "We love living in Camp Sherman and it's a great house for a family. It's comfortable and we can make it our own. For us, it was a perfect fit."

Petke said that initially there were some headaches and questions, as housing negotiations and extra paperwork arose.

"Coming up with a landlord-tenant agreement was difficult," he said. "At this point, everybody is pleased with the decision, pleased with the head teacher and what he's doing in the community."

Sharp said living nearby makes a big difference.

"It means we're present for community events, we're around, we're at the post office, we're at the local dump, we're at the store," he explained. "We get to see people on a regular basis. It's been way easier for us to integrate into the community because we live right here in Camp Sherman.

"I think the school has needed some continuity and stability," he continued, "and having a teacher that's staying in the area for the long term-it's good for the school, good for the students."

Arlo Sharp, age 4, said he likes the house, too: "I like sleeping in my room."